Grid computing used in battle to beat AIDS

23 Nov 2005

A research effort to help combat AIDS using the computational power of the IBM-backed World Community Grid has been developed. The computational power puts this grid amongst the top 10 supercomputers in the world and the first virtual supercomputer devoted specifically to AIDS research.

The World Community Grid is a global community of computer users who have joined the philanthropic technology initiative by donating unused time on their PCs. Fast, easy, safe and secure, more than 100,000 individuals are now volunteering power from 170,000 computers to help find a cure for AIDS through the World Community Grid.

The grid will work with the Scripps Research Institute, a non-profit research organisation engaged in basic biomedical science and through its FightAIDS@Home initiative.

The initiative will deploy massive computer power to develop novel chemical strategies effective in the treatment of HIV-infected people in the face of evolving drug resistance in the virus. Developing new, more robust therapies to prevent the onset of AIDS in individuals infected with HIV will be the focus of the Olson Laboratory project at the Scripps Research Institute.

“The computational challenges in approaching this problem are the vast number of possible mutations that may occur and the huge number of possible chemical compounds that might be tested against them,” said Dr Arthur J Olson of the Department of Molecular Biology at the Scripps Research Institute. “The grid project will run millions of docking computations to evaluate potential interactions between compounds and mutant viral proteins.”

There are more than 650 million PCs in use around the world, each a potential participant in the grid. Grid computing is a rapidly emerging technology than can bring together the collective power of thousands or millions of individual computers to create a giant “virtual” system with massive computational strength. Grid technology provides processing power far in excess of the world’s largest supercomputers.

The significance of this project to the research community is that this database of protein structures will help scientists take the next steps to understanding how diseases that involve these proteins work and, ultimately, how to cure diseases such as cancer, malaria and others. The results of the Human Proteome Folding project will be entered into the public domain so that scientists and researchers can use the information in their own studies.

“AIDS is perhaps the most devastating epidemic of our time. Its growing impact on the developing nations of the world is both tragic and destabilising,” said World Community Grid advisory board member David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize biologist and president of California Institute of Technology.

“Through the World Community Grid, individuals in all parts of the globe can participate in helping develop effective, inexpensive and robust therapies against HIV and potentially reverse the downward health and economic impacts of this epidemic,” Baltimore said.

By John Kennedy