MANILA, MAY 16, 2009 (STAR) IBM and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) launched an effort using IBM’s World Community Grid “virtual supercomputer” to allow laboratory tests on drug candidates for drug-resistant influenza strains and new strains, such as H1N1, in less than a month.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch will use the World Community Grid to identify the chemical compounds most likely to stop the spread of the influenza viruses and begin testing these under laboratory conditions.

The computational work adds up to thousands of years of computer time, which will be compressed into just months using the World Community Grid.

As many as 10 percent of the drug candidates identified by calculations on the World Community Grid are likely to show antiviral activity in the laboratory and move to further testing.

According to the researchers, without access to the World Community Grid’s virtual super computing power, the search for drug candidates would take a prohibitive amount of time and laboratory testing.

Yet over the next several months and years, researchers say they hope to identify candidates for clinical tests.

The University of Texas researchers are currently using the power of the World Community Grid on research projects involving dengue fever and West Nile diseases.

“Because of the experience we gained from our dengue drug project running on the World Community Grid, we expect to identify new influenza drug candidates to test in less than a month,” said Dr. Stan Watowich, lead researcher and associate professor of biochemistry at UTMB.

“The World Community Grid gives us the computational power to undertake projects that are typically quite daunting. We can move from computer calculations into laboratory testing more quickly and with a sharper focus,” he added.

The joint project, “Influenza Antiviral Drug Search,” uses computer power from over one million devices registered and hundreds of thousands of individuals who donate their unused computer time for humanitarian and medical research.

Influenza claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. The current H1N1 virus outbreak is a reminder of how quickly influenza mutates and how easily new strains of the virus emerge.

New flu vaccines are needed every year because of the high rate at which the virus changes. Each year, new strains of influenza virus increasingly show resistance to available drugs.

“Influenza is one of the world’s most elusive viruses, and it has a deadly impact every year. Now anyone with a computer and Internet access can be a part of a global solution to address this very critical health concern,” said Andrea Escalona, marketing, communications and corporate citizenship and corporate affairs manager of IBM Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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