Malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is one of the leading causes of death in the third world, especially among children. Becoming immune to all of the variations of Plasmodium malaria can take upwards of five years. The reason for this is because of the cloaking capabilities the parasite has evolved over the years. A process called epigenetic silencing allows the Plasmodium to express only one antigenic protein at a time. As there are about 60 genes that can be turned on and off, this means the body must learn to recognize 60 different forms of the same organism.
A distributed computing project out of France aims to tackle drug-discovery for Plasmodium-mediated malaria. Using software developed by the Fraunhofer Institute — the same people that developed the MP3 codec — the project narrows down the list of possible drug candidates to a select few which will be further analyzed by supercomputer.
The project, called Wide In Silico Docking on Malaria (WISDOM) to model 3D structures of proteins from Plasmodium to ligands: the chemical compounds that bind to protein receptors. The massive parallelism was achieved by assigning one ligand to one protein to each node on the grid. Computing the probability of a match can take a few seconds to a few minutes.
The project joins myriad other distributed computing projects in the life sciences, many of which are specifically drug-discovery efforts for diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS to anthrax and even Ebola.
[tags]WISDOM, distributed computing, grid computing, malaria, plasmodium falciparum[/tags]