Attempts to understand diseases such as Alzheimers have got a boost from Sony's PlayStation 3 console.
The program simulates how proteins assume their shape
More than 250,000 PS3 owners have enrolled their console in the Folding@Home project which uses it to study the shapes proteins assume.
So many have signed up that the project has carried out a year's worth of research in a month.
Proteins that do not fold correctly have been implicated in diseases such as Alzheimers and BSE.
The Folding@Home (F@H) project uses idle machines, be they PCs or game consoles, to simulate how proteins, the building blocks of life, assume the forms that play key roles in living tissue.
A better understanding of these folded forms could help tackle disease or help manipulate or mimic these vital structures.
The project, like many others, tries to solve hugely complicated problems by splitting them up into thousands of much smaller tasks.
By harnessing thousands of idle machines to do hundreds of thousands of these smaller tasks it becomes possible to do analysis that would take years to complete on a single supercomputer.
"Thanks to PS3, we have performed simulations in the first few weeks that would normally take us more than a year to calculate," said Vijay Pande, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and leader of the Folding@Home project.
Sony signed up to F@H in March and those that have downloaded the program have, at their busiest, racked up a total computing power of more than 700 teraflops. The average computational power delivered by these users is about 400 teraflops.
By comparison BlueGene L, which tops the list of most powerful supercomputers, has a top speed of 280.6 teraflops.
Sony said an update to the F@H PS3 program would boost speeds and make it easier to see who else was participating.