No. A search for potential drugs to combat influenza is a lengthy process and is unlikely to be helpful in the current outbreak. Once the computational portion of the project identifies the chemical compounds that are the best candidates, a considerable amount of laboratory testing and drug development is required before a drug is ready for safe and effective public use. The current H1N1 influenza outbreak is a reminder of how quickly influenza mutates and how easily new strains of the virus emerge. Seasonal outbreaks of influenza cause hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world each year. We want to leverage this understanding to encourage more people to volunteer their idle computer time and help us to accelerate this important research.
However, with the large computational power of World Community Grid and your individual contributions of spare time from your computers, we can greatly accelerate the process, examine a much larger pool of chemicals and focus laboratory research on the best candidates for new treatments. Researchers will be well positioned to help respond to outbreaks of potentially more severe (or drug-resistant) influenza viruses in the future.
Each year, scientists and manufacturers work to create a new influenza vaccine to be used before the flu season. However, influenza can mutate rapidly into new varieties and these cannot always be anticipated many months before the season starts, when vaccine production begins. Since the flu virus is always mutating and new strains appear, this type of research is always valuable.
While your computer is powered on, much of the time the processor inside your computer is just waiting for something to do, such as processing your next keystroke or mouse click. These idle times add up to a very large amount of processor time, when multiplied across millions of computers, that could be tapped and used for productive purposes such as this project. This can accelerate the research dramatically. Some of these projects would take hundreds or thousands of years to accomplish with the normal resources available to the scientists, and thus are likely not to even be attempted. World Community Grid and your contributions make projects such as these possible for the first time.
In just several weeks, we will start identifying candidates for laboratory examination from the analysis on World Community Grid. It will then take anywhere from a few months to years to complete the entire process of distributing new drugs. During this time, when good candidates are found, they will proceed to laboratory testing phases. These ultimately lead to clinical trials and hopefully a drug available for use. The entire process can take years depending on the details and any problems encountered. Thus, we do not know how long it will really take nor when and if suitable candidates will be found.
However, we do know that the process of searching for drug candidates among the millions of potential compounds can be greatly accelerated using World Community Grid, compared to using conventional laboratory work or the limited resources typically available to the researchers.
Influenza vaccine injections give your body immunity to the particular strains of influenza virus that the specific vaccine was manufactured to address. Once a person receives this vaccine, immunization for those strains typically lasts for many years. However, this immunization usually does not work for new strains. Because influenza mutates rapidly, new strains are formed all of the time. Influenza antiviral drugs are used to treat sever cases of the disease once a person has contracted an influenza strain for which he or she is not immune. Antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir (commercial name Tamiflu) and zanamivir (commercial name Relenza) help retard the spread of the virus in the body, once a patient has contracted influenza. However, these drugs are not effective against all types of influenza and in addition new drug-resistant strains are evolving. This is why this type of antiviral research is important. The antiviral drugs should only be used under the guidance of a doctor because other uses can encourage drug resistant strains of the virus to develop.
This is an image of the project's seal/icon and was designed by Tzintzuni Garcia and Robert Malmstrom. The background contains a stylized influenza virus particle with its characteristic spikes. The eight gray bars inside the particle represent eight segments of the influenza genome. The stylized virus particle is overlaid with the image of a compound signifying the search for an antiviral drug.