|By: The OpenPandemics research team|
|14 May 2020|
The OpenPandemics - COVID-19 project helps researchers at Scripps Research look for potential COVID-19 treatments. But that's just the beginning for our newest project, and we need your help.
These are three grim facts about COVID-19, a disease caused by a newly identified and highly contagious virus, named SARS-CoV-2, that has, in just a few months, wrought havoc around the globe, causing severe illness and even death. But scientists and volunteers are uniting to power OpenPandemics - COVID-19, a new World Community Grid project to help address the urgent need for identifying potentially effective COVID-19 treatments.
Why is finding potential treatments for COVID-19 so important?
Soon after COVID-19 was identified, scientists began the complex undertaking of creating a vaccine that could help prevent the spread of the virus. However, this process is likely to take many months--or possibly years--even with a concerted, global effort among scientists and with accelerated clinical trials.
In the meantime, scientists are also searching for potential therapeutic agents that could help managing the symptoms, halting the progression of the disease, and ultimately speed healing from COVID-19. OpenPandemics - COVID-19 is one such effort, led by researchers in the Forli Lab at Scripps Research, who are accelerating the search by enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers.
How does World Community Grid work?
As a World Community Grid volunteer, you download a secure software program to your computer. And when your computer is not using its full computing power, it automatically runs a simulated experiment in the background which will help predict the effectiveness of a particular chemical compound in inhibiting the functions of viral proteins, as a possible treatment for COVID-19. Then, your computer returns the results of the completed simulation and requests the next simulation.
All of this happens unobtrusively, while you are going about your regular activities such as typing an email, browsing the Internet, or while your computer is idle but left on.
World Community Grid combines the results from your computer along with millions of results from other volunteers all over the world and sends them to the Scripps Research team for analysis. While this process doesn't happen overnight, it accelerates dramatically what would otherwise take many years, or might even be impossible.
What exactly are the scientists at Scripps Research looking for?
Top (l to r): Stefano Forli, Paolo Governa, Andreas Tillack, Jérôme Eberhardt
Middle (l to r): Giulia Bianco, Batuujin Burendei, Diogo Santos-Martins, Martina Maritan
Bottom (l to r): Matthew Holcomb, Christina Garza
Click here to learn more about the OpenPandemics research team.
The Forli Lab is using a process known as molecular docking, which is the study of how two or more molecules fit together, to evaluate how chemical compounds might bind to SARS-CoV2 proteins and may therefore be effective as potential treatments.
By leveraging World Community Grid's massive computational power, the research team can virtually screen millions of known and novel chemical compounds in a matter of months instead of years. Promising compounds will then proceed through the drug discovery process, including laboratory testing.
How can this effort help address future pandemics?
From what scientists have learned from past outbreaks, they expect pandemics caused by newly emerging pathogens to become more and more common. That's why this project is being designed to be rapidly deployed to fight future diseases, ideally before they reach a critical stage.
In order to help address future pandemics, researchers need access to swift and effective tools which can be deployed very early, as soon as a threatening disease is identified. Using the knowledge and data from looking for potential COVID-19 treatments, the researchers plan to create a software infrastructure to streamline the process of finding potential treatments for other diseases. And, in keeping with World Community Grid's open data policy, they'll make their findings and these tools freely available to the scientific community.
In addition to searching for potential treatments for COVID-19, the scientists want to be prepared for the next emergency. Future pandemics could stem from a progressive accumulation of mutations, which can eventually lead to a new virus variant. This is what happened when the virus SARS-CoV1 mutated to become SARS-CoV2, the virus which causes COVID-19. So the research team is including proteins from SARS-CoV1 and other viruses, to be studied as part of OpenPandemics - COVID-19, which will help them assess how difficult would it be to find or design molecules capable of overcoming the inevitable mutations.