IBM Supercomputers Help Researchers Find Cure for the Common Cold

 
 
By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2012-07-16 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

IBM supercomputer technology is helping researchers in Melbourne, Australia, search for a cure for the common cold.

IBM technology is helping fight the common cold.

Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, are now simulating in 3D the motion of the complete human rhinovirus (HRV), the most frequent cause of the common cold, using Australia€™s fastest supercomputer, an IBM Blue Gene/Q.

A new antiviral drug to treat rhinovirus infections is being developed by Melbourne company Biota Holdings Ltd., targeted for those with these existing conditions where the common cold is a serious threat to their health and could prove fatal. In conjunction with researchers at the IBM Research Collaboratory for Life Sciences€“Melbourne, scientists from St. Vincent€™s Institute of Medical Research and the University of Melbourne are using information on how the new drug works to create a 3D simulation of the complete rhinovirus on IBM supercomputing technology.

To help pave the way for new drug development, researchers are working to build a fully atomistic, three-dimensional simulation of HRV. According to IBM, these calculations are the first to include not only the 3 million-plus atoms of the rhinovirus capsid€”or outer shell€”and their aqueous environment, but also the virus€™ RNA genome, that packet of genetic information necessary for the virus to replicate.

A new antiviral drug to treat rhinovirus infections is being developed by Melbourne company Biota Holdings Ltd., targeted for those with conditions where the common cold is a serious threat to their health and could prove fatal.

Rhinovirus infection is linked to about 70 percent of all asthma exacerbations, with more than 50 percent of these patients requiring hospitalization. Furthermore, over 35 percent of patients with acute chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are hospitalized each year due to respiratory viruses including rhinovirus.

A team of researchers led by Professor Michael Parker from St. Vincent€™s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) and the University of Melbourne are now using information on how the new drug works to create a 3D simulation of the complete rhinovirus using Australia€™s fastest supercomputer.

€œOur recently published work with Biota shows that the drug binds to the shell that surrounds the virus, called the capsid,€ Parker said in a statement. €œBut that work doesn€™t explain in precise detail how the drug and other similar acting compounds work.€

Professor Parker and his team are working on the newly installed IBM Blue Gene/Q at the University of Melbourne with computational biologists from IBM and the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI).

In production since July 1, 2012, the IBM Blue Gene/Q is the most powerful supercomputer dedicated to life sciences research in the Southern Hemisphere and currently ranked the fastest in Australia.

€œThe IBM Blue Gene/Q will provide us with extraordinary 3D computer simulations of the whole virus in a time frame not even dreamt of before,€ Parker said. €œSupercomputer technology enables us to delve deeper in the mechanisms at play inside a human cell, particularly how drugs work at a molecular level. €œThis work offers exciting opportunities for speeding up the discovery and development of new antiviral treatments and hopefully will save many lives around the world,€ he said.

Professor Parker said that previous efforts have only been able to focus on running smaller simulations on just parts of the virus. However, Professor James McCluskey, deputy vice chancellor for research at the University of Melbourne, said: €œThe work on rhinovirus is an example of how new approaches to treat disease will become possible with the capacity of the IBM Blue Gene Q, exactly how we hoped this extraordinary asset would be utilized by the Victorian research community in collaboration with IBM. €œThis is a terrific facility for Victorian life science researchers, further strengthening Victoria€™s reputation as a leading biotechnology centre,€ he said.

John Wagner, Ph.D., manager of the IBM Research Collaboratory for Life Sciences-Melbourne, co-located at the VLSCI, said these types of simulations are the way of the future for drug discovery. €œThis is the way we do biology in the 21st Century,€ he said.

The newly operational IBM Blue Gene/Q hosted by the University of Melbourne at the VLSCI is ranked 31st on the prestigious global TOP500 list. The TOP500 table nominates the 500 most powerful computer systems in the world.

The VLSCI is an initiative of the Victorian Government in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the IBM Life Sciences Research Collaboratory, Melbourne.

 
 
 
 
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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