IBM, Texas University to research in viral drugs

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Bangalore, Sep18: IBM, the University of Texas Medical Branch and the University of Chicago, today launched research to halt the spread of deadly infectious diseases like Dengue, now threatening to reach epidemic proportions around the world.

The research was also aimed at finding suitable drugs to treat West Nile encephalitis and a host of related diseases including Yellow Fever and Hepatitis C.

Dengue fever was found primarily in Asia, including India and in areas around the equator line. Similarly, the West Nile virus affects Africa, Asia and Europe and has now moved into the United States. Both had no known drug treatments and were primarily passed to adults and children by infected mosquitoes, and were responsible for millions of illnesses, as well as thousands of deaths each year, according to a IBM release here today.

In India specifically, Dengue fever has affected more than 46,000 children and adults between 2001 and 2006 of which almost 700 were fatal. Delhi and Rajasthan alone accounted for 43 percent of the cases.

The project "Discovering Dengue Drugs" together, would use the vast computational research power of World Community Grid, with the power equivalent to one of world's top five super computers, yet comprised of individual volunteers who are donating unused computer time. Calculations will be run on World Community Grid to find the best combinations of drug molecules that will inhibit the replication of the virus that cause dengue, West Nile encephalitis, Yellow fever and Hepatitis C. Once these are identified, researchers can begin testing these drugs to determine their effectiveness.

"Viral diseases such as dengue continue to be a serious public health concern around the world because there are no known drugs to effectively treat them," said Union Ministry of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology Secretary Dr Maharaj Kishan Bhan.

"Continued research and global collaboration was needed so that scientists can better understand these virus and then develop treatments that could save many lives. World Community Grid is a good step in this direction", he added.

Researchers estimate that this project would need about 50,000 years of computational power. Running on World Community Grid, the project would be completed in approximately one year. The more computer power volunteered, the faster the research would be conducted.

The first phase of the project will target the proteins that enable the virus to replicate and will match them against a database of six million drug molecules that might inhibit the replication. The second phase, which was more difficult, would analyze which of the drug molecules actually bind tightly to the protein, so that it does, in fact, inhibit replication.

From this, researchers would walk away with several dozen molecules that they can begin testing in the laboratory, which is the next phase of new drug development. "Anyone with a computer and Internet access can be a part of the solution to address this very critical health concern," said Dr.

Daniel Dias, Director, IBM India Research Laboratory. "Simply by donating our unused computer cycle time, we can all have a profound effect on how quickly this team can move to the next phase of drug discovery. For example, if 100,000 volunteers sign up within the first week for this project, it could reduce the time required to complete calculations by 50 percent", he added.

To donate their unused computer time to this project, individuals register on and install a free, small software program on to their computers. When the computer is idle, for example a user is at lunch, their computers request data from World Community Grid's server. These computers then perform computations using this data, and send the results back to the server, prompting it for a new piece of work. A screen saver will tell individuals when their computers are being used.

World Community Grid, the largest public humanitarian grid in existence, had an impressive 315,000-plus members and taps into more than 700,000 devices. However, it was estimated that there were one billion devices available.

Seven projects have been run on World Community Grid to date, including FightAIDS@Home, which completed five years of HIV/AIDS research in just six months. Additional projects are in the pipeline.


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