GALVESTON, Texas - 05 May 2009: IBM and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) launched an effort using IBM's World Community Grid "virtual supercomputer" to allow laboratory tests on drug candidates for drug-resistant influenza strains and new strains, such as H1N1, in less than a month.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch will use World Community Grid to identify the chemical compounds most likely to stop the spread of the influenza viruses and begin testing these under laboratory conditions. The computational work adds up to thousands of years of computer time which will be compressed into just months using World Community Grid. As many as 10% of the drug candidates identified by calculations on World Community Grid are likely to show antiviral activity in the laboratory and move to further testing.
According to the researchers, without access to World Community Grid's virtual super computing power, the search for drug candidates would take a prohibitive amount of time and laboratory testing. Yet, over the next several months and years, researchers say they hope to identify candidates for clinical tests. The University of Texas researchers are currently using the power of World Community Grid on research projects involving dengue fever and West Nile diseases.
"Because of the experience we gained with our dengue drug project running on World Community Grid, we expect to identify new influenza drug candidates to test in less than a month," said Dr. Stan Watowich, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Biochemistry at UTMB. "World Community Grid gives us the computational power to undertake projects that are typically quite daunting. We can move from computer calculations into laboratory testing more quickly and with a sharper focus."
The joint project, "Influenza Antiviral Drug Search," uses computer power from over one million devices registered and hundreds of thousands of individuals who donate their unused computer time for humanitarian and medical research.
Influenza claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. The current H1N1 virus outbreak is a reminder of how quickly influenza mutates and how easily new strains of the virus emerge. New flu vaccines are needed every year because of the high rate at which the virus changes. Each year, new strains of influenza virus increasingly show resistance to available drugs.
World Community Grid will run virtual chemistry experiments to determine which of the millions of small molecules can attach to the influenza virus and inhibit it from spreading. The computer predication can then be tested in the laboratory and clinic, which are the next phases in developing drugs for the marketplace. All of the results will be made freely available to other researchers studying influenza.
"Influenza is one of the world's most elusive viruses, and it has a deadly impact every year. Now anyone with a computer and Internet access can be a part of a global solution to address this very critical health concern," said Stanley S. Litow, IBM's Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation. "At a time when the media is filled with discouraging news that is apparently out of our control, here's something each and every one of us can do to make a difference."
To donate unused computer time to this project, individuals simply take a few minutes to register on www.worldcommunitygrid.org and install a free, secure, unobtrusive software program onto their computers. When computers are idle, for example when people are at lunch, their computers request data from World Community Grid's server. These computers then perform drug discovery computations using this data, and send the results back to the server, prompting it for a new piece of work. A screen saver shows individuals when their computers are being used and helps them track the progress of the effort.
World Community Grid is the largest public humanitarian grid in existence, with an 415,000-plus members linking more than one million computers. However, this represents only a fraction of the estimated one billion computers worldwide that could be used for medical breakthroughs. If more computers were contributing to the effort, the research could progress faster and more research projects, even those requiring the largest supercomputers, could be added.
World Community Grid results include:
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