Fight AIDS in your Computer’s Spare Time!

In honor of the upcoming Support World AIDS Day(Thursday),

The World Community Grid team has announced the FightAIDS @ Home project. By downloading their screensaver you donate your computer’s idle processing power to the project. The increased processing power will hopefully allow researchers to more aggressively and quickly screen possible HIV-fighting drugs. [Link]

AIDS is an increasing problem in India:

India has had a sharp increase in the estimated number of HIV infections, from a few thousand in the early 1990s to around 5.1 million children and adults living with HIV/AIDS in 2003. [Link]

This software is similar to the SETI @ home project that was popular a few years ago, no more intrusive but with (IMHO) a much higher probability of success. A full explanation of the program follows for the geeks amongst us:

HIV Protease Docking UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, estimated that in 2004 there were more than 40 million people around the world living with HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The virus has affected the lives of men, women and children all over the world. Currently, there is no cure in sight, only treatment with a variety of drugs.

Prof. Arthur J. Olson’s laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is studying computational ways to design new anti-HIV drugs based on molecular structure. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the function of a molecule — a substance made up of many atoms — is related to its three-dimensional shape. Olson’s target is HIV protease (“pro-tee-ace”), a key molecular machine of the virus that when blocked stops the virus from maturing. These blockers, known as “protease inhibitors”, are thus a way of avoiding the onset of AIDS and prolonging life. The Olson Laboratory is using computational methods to identify new candidate drugs that have the right shape and chemical characteristics to block HIV protease. This general approach is called “Structure-Based Drug Design”, and according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, it has already had a dramatic effect on the lives of people living with AIDS.

Even more challenging, HIV is a “sloppy copier,” so it is constantly evolving new variants, some of which are resistant to current drugs. It is therefore vital that scientists continue their search for new and better drugs to combat this moving target.

Scientists are able to determine by experiment the shapes of a protein and of a drug separately, but not always for the two together. If scientists knew how a drug molecule fit inside the active site of its target protein, chemists could see how they could design even better drugs that would be more potent than existing drugs.

To address these challenges, World Community Grid’s FightAIDS@Home project runs a software program called AutoDock developed in Prof. Olson’s laboratory. AutoDock is a suite of tools that predicts how small molecules, such as drug candidates, might bind or “dock” to a receptor of known 3D structure. The very first version of AutoDock was written in the Olson Laboratory in 1990 by Dr. David S. Goodsell, while newer versions, developed by Dr. Garrett M. Morris, have been released which add new scientific understanding and strategies to AutoDock, making it computationally more robust, faster, and easier for other scientists to use. AutoDock is used on the World Community Grid to dock large numbers of different small molecules to HIV protease, so the best molecules can be found computationally, selected and tested in the laboratory for efficacy against the virus, HIV. By joining forces together, The Scripps Research Institute, World Community Grid and its growing volunteer force can find better treatments much faster than ever before. [Link]

7 thoughts on “Fight AIDS in your Computer’s Spare Time!

  1. cool..there was an article in the WSJ a few months/years back (i can’t recall..) about an indian kid from MIT who recycled HIV drugs that were discarded here (since they were expired and such, although there isn’t a true expiration date perse) and sent them to India.. a really cool cause however, it might actually be detrimental and cause resistance to the virus itself…

  2. Not to make light of this, but I would rather continue running SETI on my computer. Just in case we were to establish contact with an extra-terrestrial civilization, maybe they could help us solve many of our medical problems. You have to believe.

  3. Do you really think that (a) SETI@Home is an effective way to search for ETs and (b) that ETs could seriously help us with our medical problems? Why do you think they would have any knowledge of something practical if they existed, we contacted them, and they even wanted to help us?

  4. I dont trust science anymore. There is to much money to be made to go around curing things. AIDS is a gold mine, just keep people hooked on drugs they have to take the rest of there lives and you have a great sales quarter.

    I did just read about a vaccine that shows like a 90% success rate for cervical cancer so maybe there are some decent people in the world.

  5. franktank, maybe this will fall on deaf ears, but being distrustful of science and having a lack of faith in free enterprise (i.e. pharma companies developing chronic drugs) seem disconnected to me to begin with.

    But to go a little further, AIDS vaccinations are incredibly difficult to develop because HIV mutates at a faster rate than most viruses. Therefore, any person infected with HIV has several different strains of HIV in their body, and those strains are different from another individual infected with HIV. Developing a vaccine that can handle all these different strains is what is keeping things back, not an interest in keeping profits up at drug companies.

    Note that the cervical cancer example you cite is for Human Papillomavirus, which has a much more stable genome. Therefore, there are only about four strains that infect humans, and it’s a lot easier to develop vaccines.

  6. hmm….i’ll go for it.

    if you don’t like a problem, it doesn’t help to sit and say why it’s horrid – go out and improve it. or find people who can. it’s more realistic if we put more effort into it. ;)

  7. Why would aliens be able to help us with medicine?

    Deep space travel – sure. Quantum mechanics – possibly. Cure for cancer – nanoo nanoo.

    Read the avert link about AIDS in India, very good. Update on AIDS in Asia here.