IBM to help halt spread of epidemics

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New Delhi, Sept 18 (UNI) A new research effort was today launched by hardware giant IBM to halt the spread of diseases such as Dengue, West Nile encephalitis, Hepatitis C, simply by using computers through a network of volunteers.

The project, ''Discovering Dengue Drugs Together,'' will use the vast computational research power of World Community Grid, with the power equivalent to one of world's top five supercomputers, yet comprised 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 viruses 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,'' according to Dr Maharaj Kishan Bhan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology Continued research and global collaboration is needed so that scientists can better understand these viruses and then develop treatments that could save many lives. World Community Grid is a good step in this direction.

Researchers estimate that this project will need about 50,000 years of computational power. Running on World Community Grid, the project will be completed in approximately one year. The more computer power volunteered, the faster the research will 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 is more difficult, will analyse which of the drug molecules actually bind tightly to the protein, so that it does, in fact, inhibit replication.

From this, researchers will 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 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 1,00,000 volunteers sign up within the first week for this project, it could reduce the time required to complete calculations by 50 per cent, Mr Dias said.

To donate their unused computer time to this project, individuals register on and install a free, small software programme 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, has an impressive 315,000-plus members and taps into more than 7,00,000 devices. However, it's estimated that there are one billion devices available today. 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.

Dengue fever is 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 have no known drug treatments, are primarily passed to adults and children by infected mosquitoes, and are responsible for millions of illnesses, as well as thousands of deaths each year.

An IBM statement said 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 per cent of the cases.


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