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What are the goals of OpenZika and how are these goals being met?

The main goal of the OpenZika project is to identify promising drug candidates to treat a Zika virus infection. In order to help scientists reach this goal, World Community Grid volunteers are donating their unused computing power to conduct virtual experiments, called “docking calculations.” Based on the results of the docking calculations, the researchers will be able to predict which drug candidates are most likely to show promising results in laboratory tests.

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How might the data generated on this project be useful to Zika researchers?

World Community Grid volunteers’ computers and Android devices will complete virtual screenings of chemical compounds that may be effective against the Zika virus. These virtual screenings will generate data about the potential effectiveness of chemical compounds that could be used as antiviral medicines. Once the virtual screenings are complete, researchers will use the data to test promising compounds in laboratories.

In compliance with World Community Grid policy, the researchers will make their data openly accessible, thereby allowing other scientists to apply their own methods and approaches to further study promising compounds. The open data component of this project (and all other World Community Grid projects) means that the likelihood of finding effective drug treatments for Zika may be higher than if the researchers worked in isolation.

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What is Zika?

The Zika virus (ZIKV) is a flavivirus (a family of mosquito-borne or tick-borne viruses), which is similar to dengue virus, yellow fever and West Nile virus. The virus has been found to be transmitted by bites from infected Aedes mosquitoes, from mother to fetus, through blood transfusion, urine, saliva, and sexual transmission.

Zika usually only causes relatively mild symptoms, such as fever, joint pains, rash, conjunctivitis (red eyes), headache and/or swollen lymph nodes. However, Zika has been recently associated with serious neurological conditions, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, in adults and children. Additionally, scientists have linked cases of severe brain under-development in some fetuses and infants to mothers being infected with Zika during pregnancy.

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Why is Zika a major global health problem?

Zika virus is a global health issue, because it spreads rapidly and is related to severe neurological diseases (in adults and children), such as microcephaly, Guillain-Barré syndrome, acute myelitis, and meningoencephalitis. While the Zika virus itself was first identified in the late 1940s, the connection to widespread neurological issues is relatively new, because the Zika virus is spreading rapidly to populations that do not have immunity to it.

In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General declared that the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. There is currently no effective antiviral medication for Zika virus, and no vaccine. Therefore, the disease can continue to spread rapidly if left unchecked.

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Which geographic areas and populations are most impacted by Zika?

Since it was first identified in the Zika forest of Uganda, Africa, the Zika virus has spread across Asia, the Pacific, and more recently to the Americas. Serious concerns about the virus have been raised since 2015, due to a rapid rise in infections in the Americas coinciding with an increase in cases of microcephaly and other neurological disorders.

Between 2007 and April 2016, 62 countries reported cases of the Zika virus. Most of these cases occurred in the Americas (Central, North and South), Oceania, Pacific Islands, and Africa. Any areas with active Aedes mosquito populations—particularly tropical and subtropical regions—are vulnerable to the introduction and spread of the Zika virus. Recent estimates from an international group of university researchers suggest that more than two billion people could potentially be at risk.

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What are the broader community and public health impacts of Zika?

Without a vaccine or effective antiviral treatments, the Zika virus will continue to spread rapidly. And until scientists have more information about the links between the Zika virus and potential neurological complications, it will be difficult to know the full impact of the virus.

In Brazil alone, the Zika virus has affected millions of people. This caused drops in productivity, and an increased need for healthcare (especially for patients with complications and for infants born with microcephaly).

Additionally, people are less likely to travel to countries with high rates of Zika virus infections, which impacts local economies. Potentially, Zika outbreaks could increase pressure on healthcare systems and destabilize governments.

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What measures are being taken in countries where Zika has spread or could potentially spread? What can individuals do to protect themselves from the Zika virus?

Because there is no treatment and no vaccine for the Zika virus, prevention and containment efforts are largely focused on controlling the mosquito population. However, many mosquitoes have become increasingly resistant to insecticides, and the mosquitoes that harbor the Zika virus tend to hide inside homes, which makes eradication difficult. In addition, unlike most other types of mosquitoes, the female Aedes mosquito tends to feed on humans during the day, which makes insecticide-treated bed nets an impractical solution for impeding the spread of this virus.

Some countries with large populations of Aedes mosquitoes have advised women to avoid pregnancy until the Zika outbreak subsides.

Individuals who want to minimize their risk can take actions to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and staying in places with air conditioning and window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

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How can I help stop Zika?

You can help stop this virus by joining World Community Grid and contributing to the OpenZika project. When you join, you donate your computer or Android device’s unused computing power to run virtual experiments to help researchers identify promising candidates for anti-viral drugs to combat Zika.

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