The first stage in finding a treatment for smallpox, a potential threat as a potent weapon of bioterror, is complete. Professor Graham Richards, Chairman of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, together with research and industry partners, will deliver the results of the Smallpox Research Grid project to representatives from the United States Department of Defense today [Tuesday 30 September].
The smallpox grid project, which was launched in February this year, made use of idle times of home computers around the world in order to find a drug to combat the effects of the smallpox virus after infection. Volunteers from over 190 countries contributed over 39,000 years of computing time in less than six months.
The virus packs its DNA in a tightly coiled form to make it small enough for transport, but needs the enzyme to unwind again in order to replicate. If a molecule can be found to block the enzyme, the virus will not be able to replicate, and the spread of the disease can be halted.
The project screened 35 million potential drug molecules against eight models of the smallpox protein to determine if any of the drug-like molecules would bind to the smallpox protein, rendering it inactivated. Preliminary results have dramatically narrowed the field of molecules that can be considered lead candidates for the next phase of research.
Professor Richards said: 'This represents massive progress in thwarting the threat of smallpox but also a significant opportunity for all life science research. This resource has the potential to find leads against both bioterror and disease agents in a fraction of the time science is accustomed to.
'The smallpox project could also have implications for cancer therapy, as some cancers also have their DNA supercoiled, which means that an enzyme blocker could potentially be used to slow cancer replication and growth.'
Tom Hawk, General Manager at Grid Computing, IBM, said: 'The results of the Smallpox Research Grid are a dramatic illustration of the power of Grid computing to harness the world's computing resources to improve the lives of people around the globe. IBM believes the potential of Grid computing to address similar grand scale research projects is unlimited.'
In addition to researchers at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) who funded the project, technologies and services provided by IBM, United Devices, Accelrys, Evotec OAI, Robarts Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research and Essex University were necessary in making the project a success.
Further details about the project can be found on http://www.chem.ox.ac.uk/smallpox/.
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