The Zika outbreak has recently been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation. It seems fitting then that a new approach to finding the desperately needed cure is through a project that is equally as global in scope. Scientists in many research institutions have started to use the World Community Grid (founded by IBM) to screen potential drugs to find a cure for Zika.
The World Community Grid is essentially a means of giving spare, much needed computing power to researchers for free. The grid is made up of volunteers’ computers and android devices which run an app when they are idle that performs experiments for these global research projects. The result of this grid is a phenomenal supercomputing facility that can be used for philanthropic purposes.
In order to find a cure for Zika scientists are modelling experiments where millions of current drugs and drug-like compounds are tested against the proteins that make up the Zika virus. This screening is made possible by the supercomputing power behind the project.
It is hoped that this approach could massively speed up the process of finding a cure, as Alex Perryman a research teaching specialist at Rutger’s New Jersey medical school explains “Instead of having to wait a number of years, even decades potentially, to test all these compounds…we will perform these initial tests in a matter of months”. Perryman has also worked on and managed similar projects for tackling issues that could be solved with computing power surrounding AIDS, malaria and drug resistant Tuberculosis.
The findings from these virtual experiments will quickly be made available to the public and drugs which seem promising will be tested in the lab against the virus.
Image credit: http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/worldgrid/ IBM