As this year's outbreak has shown, Ebola is a deadly and relentless virus. It moves quickly and fatally, undeterred by national borders. The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has teamed up with IBM to enlist thousands of computers around the world in attacking tiny pieces within the larger puzzle of curing Ebola. No financial contribution, passport, or PhD is necessary. In fact, all you need to do is download free software that will take advantage of the unused processing capacity on your device, even while you are asleep, traveling, or on a coffee break.
The Scripps Research Institute's Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire is leading the new effort against Ebola.
With their collective processing power, the computers will form a virtual supercomputer to help TSRI screen millions of chemical compounds and identify new drug leads for treating Ebola. Meanwhile, the devices will remain fully available for normal use by their owners. "This could let us do in months what it would otherwise take years and years to do," says Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire, a biomedical researcher at TSRI who is leading the analysis effort. The software is available at www.worldcommunitygrid.org.
This citizen science effort is possible through a partnership with IBM's World Community Grid, which has been making similar data-driven health and sustainability initiatives possible for 10 years as a free, philanthropic service to the science community. The "Outsmart Ebola Together" volunteer computing project is being run by the Ollmann Saphire laboratory at TSRI, which has mapped the structures and vulnerabilities of the proteins comprising the Ebola virus.
The best candidate compounds that emerge from this crowdsourced effort will be physically tested in the TSRI lab to pinpoint their effectiveness against real viral infection, and the most promising compounds will then be modified to perform even better. Subsequent drug trials could ultimately lead to an approved medicine.
Ebola was once believed to be less of a widespread public health risk than other communicable diseases because it existed mainly in isolated regions, but now people worldwide are more mobile than ever before, and Ebola carries a high risk of continuing to spread farther. The speed and scale of a drug search is essential.
"Our molecular images of the Ebola virus are like enemy reconnaissance," says Dr. Saphire. "These images show us where the virus is vulnerable and the targets we need to hit. In the Outsmart Ebola Together project, we will be able to harness World Community Grid's virtual supercomputing power to find the drugs we need to aim at these targets."
TSRI also invites you to support Dr. Saphire's crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdrise.com/CureEbola. Give today and help her secure the resources she needs to make the most of data generated by Outsmart Ebola Together.
IBM's World Community Grid uses IBM's reliable and secure SoftLayer cloud technology to receive, complete, and return small computational assignments to scientists. Nearly three million computers and mobile devices, used by more than 680,000 people and 460 institutions from 80 countries, have contributed over the last 10 years, creating one of the world's fastest virtual supercomputers. The volunteers have donated more than one million years of computing time to more than 20 research projects, including searches for drug candidates for AIDS, cancer, malaria, Dengue fever, and influenza.