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Folding is a competition between teams and individuals. We enjoy talking trash and the thrill of conquest, but the project is really about scientific research. Stanford uses Folding@Home to better understand the human body and what causes it to fall prey to various diseases. In the coming weeks, we'll look at a few of these diseases along with some of the other goals of the Folding project. This week, a look at Parkinson's Syndrome
Parkinson's Syndrome is named for James Parkinson, the British doctor who first described the disorder in 1817. Dr. Parkinson called his discovery the "shaking palsy." It is characterized by uncontrollable shaking or "tremors" in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face. Parkinson's can also cause stiffness in the limbs, which affects comfort and mobility. The disease is chronic and progressive, meaning that it gets worse as times goes on. 1.5 million people in the United States are afflicted and there is a new diagnosis every nine minutes. The total cost of treating this disease is estimated at over $25 billion per year.
The primary cause of Parkinson's is a drastically decreased level of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical produced by certain brain cells that helps transmit signals to the muscles. When dopamine levels are low, the signals get crossed and incorrect or conflicting signals are sent to the muscles. The muscles are fine; they're just getting bad instructions. It is believed that low dopamine levels are caused by the death of brain cells that produce the chemical. Folding@Home is attempting to prove or disprove the theory that mis-folded proteins contribute to the death of these brain cells.
In other news, this week has seen a spike in the production of UnitedGerbilNation. If you have one or two processors folding and are frustrated with your lack of progress in the rankings, you should consider pooling your resources with UGN. On the Frankenbot front, we are in need of memory. We could up four 'bots tomorrow with four sticks of RAM, so if you have a DIMM or two lying around, send it in and revel in Frank's rise to the top. Check here for details on our 'bots and here for parts we're on the lookout for.