The University of Nottingham is launching a new study to address TB, one of the world’s most deadly diseases, supported by IBM World Community Grid – one of the most powerful and fastest virtual supercomputers on the planet.
Hundreds of thousands of volunteers are expected to donate vast computing resources to aid this effort.
The new Help Stop TB project on IBM World Community Grid will model aspects of the behaviour of TB bacteria to better understand its potential vulnerabilities that new medicines may one day exploit.
Volunteers will make the processing power on their devices available, when otherwise not being used, to perform the millions of calculations necessary for these simulations.
Crowdsourcing a virtual supercomputer in this manner to study the disease will provide results significantly faster and achieve greater results than relying on conventional computational resources typically available to researchers, said IBM in a statement.
Approximately one third of the globe’s human population harbour’s TB today and 1.5 million people died from it in 2014, prompting the WHO to rank TB alongside HIV as the world’s deadliest infectious disease. “My team will use IBM World Community Grid to help science better understand the TB bacterium, so we can develop more effective treatments, and eventually eradicate this threat to human health,” said lead researcher of the Help Stop TB project and Associate Professor, Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, Dr Anna Croft.
Although several drugs and a partially effective vaccine have been developed to help combat TB, the TB bacterium can evolve to resist available medicine, particularly when patients interrupt or discontinue treatment, which often occurs when they do not have consistent access to medications and medical care.
The TB bacterium has a coating which shields it from many drugs and the patient’s immune system. Among the fats, sugars and proteins in this coat are fatty molecules called mycolic acids.
The Help Stop TB project will use the computing power donated by World Community Grid members to simulate the behaviour and chemical properties of mycolic acids to better understand how they protect the TB bacteria.
Scientists hope to use the results to eventually develop better treatments for this deadly disease, particularly those that evade TB cell wall defences.
World Community Grid was created in 2004 by IBM as part of its citizenship programme focused on innovation. Hosted on IBM’s SoftLayer cloud technology, World Community Grid facilitates massive amounts of completely free computing power for scientists by harnessing the surplus cycle time of volunteers’ computers and Android devices from all over the globe.
The combined power available on World Community Grid has created one of the most powerful and fastest virtual supercomputers on the planet.
“Thanks to World Community Grid’s massive computational power, we can study many different mycolic acid structures instead of just a few. This type of analysis at this scale would otherwise be impossible,” said Dr Croft.
More than three million computers and mobile devices used by nearly three quarters of one million people globally and 470 institutions from 80 countries have contributed virtual supercomputing power that have fuelled more than two-dozen vitally important projects on World Community Grid over the last 11 years.
Since the programme’s inception, World Community Grid has enabled important scientific advances in areas such as cancer research, AIDS treatments and genetic mapping.
World Community Grid is enabled by Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), an open source platform developed at the University of California, Berkeley and with support from the National Science Foundation.
Volunteers can help stop TB by joining World Community Grid. IBM also invites researchers to submit research project proposals to receive this free resource, and encourages members of the public to donate their unused computing power to these efforts at worldcommunitygrid.org.