Saturday, June 4, 2016
Help an International Research Team Fight the Zika Virus
SummaryThe Zika virus was relatively unknown until 2015, when it made headlines due its rapid spread and its link to severe brain-related deficiencies in newborns born to mothers who contracted the virus while pregnant. Dr. Carolina Horta Andrade, the principal investigator for the new OpenZika project, discusses how she and an international team of researchers are using World Community Grid to accelerate the search for an effective anti-Zika treatment.
Few people had heard of the Zika virus before 2015, when it began rapidly spreading in the Americas, particularly in Brazil. The virus is mostly spread byAedes aegypti mosquitoes, although sexual and blood transmission are also possible. A currently unknown percentage of pregnant women who have contracted the Zika virus have given birth to infants with a condition called microcephaly, which results in severe brain development issues. In other cases, adults and children who contract the Zika virus have suffered paralysis and other neurological problems.
Currently, there is no treatment for the Zika virus and no vaccine. Given that Zika has quickly become an international public health concern, my team and I are working with researchers here in Brazil as well as in the United States to look for possible treatments, and we are using World Community Grid to accelerate our project.
The OpenZika project on World Community Grid aims to identify drug candidates to treat the Zika virus in people who have been infected. The project will use software to screen millions of chemical compounds against the target proteins that the Zika virus likely uses to survive and spread in the human body, based on what is known from similar diseases such as dengue virus and yellow fever. As science's knowledge of the Zika virus increases in the coming months and key proteins are identified, the OpenZika team will use the new knowledge to refine our search.
Our work on World Community Grid is only the first step in the larger project of discovering a new drug to fight the Zika virus. Next, we will analyze the data obtained from World Community Grid’s virtual screening to choose the compounds that show the most promise. After we have selected and tested compounds that could be effective in killing the Zika virus, we will publish our results. As soon as we have proven that some of the candidate compounds can actually kill or disable the virus in cell-based tests, we and other labs can then modify the molecules to increase their potency against the virus, while ensuring that these modified compounds are safe and non-toxic.
We are committed to releasing all the results to the public as soon as they are completed, so other scientists can help advance the development of some of these active compounds into new drugs. We hope that OpenZika will include a second stage, where we can perform virtual screenings on many more compounds.
Without this research--and other projects that are studying the Zika virus--this disease could become an even bigger threat due to the rapid spread of the virus by mosquitoes, blood and sexual transmission. The link between the Zika virus in pregnant women and severe brain-based disorders in children could impact a generation with larger than usual numbers of members who have serious neurological difficulties.
And without the resources of World Community Grid, using only the resources of our lab, we would only be able to screen a few thousand compounds against some of the Zika proteins, or it would take years to screen millions of compounds against all Zika proteins. This would severely limit our potential for drug discovery.
Enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers will enable us to computationally evaluate over 20 million compounds in just the initial phase (and potentially up to 90 million compounds in future phases). Thus, running the OpenZika project on World Community Grid will allow us to greatly expand the scale of our project, and it will accelerate the rate at which we can obtain the results toward an antiviral drug for the Zika virus.
By working together and sharing our work with the scientific community, many other researchers in the world will also be able to take promising molecular candidates forward, to accelerate progress towards defeating the Zika outbreak.
Please visit www.savethechildren.org and http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org
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