Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 12:23 UK

World computer used to fight HIV

IBM Blue Gene
IBM Blue Gene is a super computer

Edinburgh scientists are using the world's most powerful computer to design drugs which could prevent HIV infection, it has been revealed.

Edinburgh University experts are using sophisticated computing technology to investigate the way the virus attaches to cells in the body.

They hope to discover how to prevent infection taking place, leading to the development of a vaccine for HIV.

Most HIV therapies have focused on treatment once someone has the virus.

But this project aims to target the infection process itself.

The idea is that rather than having to synthesise in the lab large numbers of candidate molecules one could use computers to accelerate the results
Professor Jason Crain
Edinburgh University

The study is a collaboration between Edinburgh University, IBM Watson Research Centre in New York and the National Physical Laboratory in Middlesex.

Jason Crain, IBM professor of physics at Edinburgh University, said: "The idea is to try and inhibit infection by the HIV virus rather than treat already infected cells so one of the strategies for doing that is to design molecules that will attach to the important parts of the virus and inhibit the initial viral fusion events.

"This is a new approach to drug design.

"The idea is that rather than having to synthesise in the lab large numbers of candidate molecules one could use computers to accelerate the results."

Lab trials

Researchers will use the IBM Blue Gene, a supercomputer, to simulate peptides which are surface proteins of the virus and are involved in the infection process.

Understanding the structure and behaviour of the peptides will enable the scientists to design molecules which could prevent the infection process.

Using computer simulation will enable the scientists to narrow down the molecules that might work before moving on to laboratory trials.

The researchers have said that this could lead to the development of therapies that could prevent HIV taking hold.

Scientists said using the computer would speed up the research process, with the project lasting five years.


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