Sony's new PlayStation 3 may be more than just a gaming system and powerful computer — according to researchers at Stanford University, it may be able to help cure cancer.

Researchers at the prestigious Palo Alto, Cal. university say they plan to use the PS3 as part of their research to cure diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's by analyzing complex human protein structures.

Sony announced last week that when the program is released, PS3 owners can register their machines with Stanford, download specially designed software and leave their machines online to process data sent to them by researchers when the PS3 is not in use.

The program, titled Cure, will be launched once the gaming system is available worldwide.

The new system, which boasts a computing speed more than 20 times faster than a normal PC, is fitted with advanced Cell processors that can perform billions of calculations per second.

Vijay Pande, associate professor of chemistry at Stanford and director of the study, said a combination of computer and lab research is the best means to curing any disease.

"A combination of calculation and experiment — especially a tight coupling between the two — has been demonstrated to be a powerful means to advance our understanding of disease," Pande said.

Pande added some of the computing that used to be done in a lab can now be done more proficiently and accurately using any computer system, not just the PS3.

"By using distributed computing, we can greatly enhance what we can do computationally," he said. "We're pushing more and more of what one used to do experimentally onto the computational part."

University of Wisconsin professor Kurt Squire, an expert in video game technology, said he thinks the idea will likely work due to the success of similar programs such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home Project, which is used to analyze radio telescope data to search for extraterrestrials.

"People really enjoy knowing that their expensive and powerful computer hardware is being put to good use when they're not around," Squire said. "I think the success of the [email protected] Project with more than 3 million users is a testament to this."

He added that the idea of conducting research shows just how tremendously powerful the PS3 really is.

It is still unknown whether the program will catch on with users since it has not yet been launched. However, Squire said that people might be reluctant to participate due to fear of ruining their new expensive console.

"My concern as a gamer would be that this could shorten the life of your PS3," Squire said. "I, like many people I know, am already on my second PS2, and I think a lot of consumers might be concerned about overheating or other deterioration from such use."

PS3s became available in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States Nov. 17, but the European launch has been delayed until March due to problems in production.

The new PS3 game console is now competing with the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii systems.