Chinese researchers have simulated the H1N1 influenza virus using a supercomputer, revealing how technological advances are helping halt the progression of deadly disease.
Scientists at the Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences, or CAS-IPE, used a computer based on NVIDIA Tesla GPUs as a “computational microscope” to view and analyze the atomic structure of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu.
The first computer simulation of a complete H1N1 influenza virus opens a door to increased understanding of the disease, and may lead to development of anti-viral drugs that could treat it and other similar viral epidemics.
“The Mole-8.5 GPU supercomputer is enabling us to perform scientific research that was not possible before,” says Dr. Ying Ren, assistant professor at CAS-IPE. “This research is an important step in developing more effective ways to control epidemics and create anti-viral drugs.”
Viruses mutate and replicate quickly, too fast for human eyes to observe, even with the aid of advanced microscopes. By harnessing the incredibly fast computing power of the Mole-8.5-accelerated Tesla supercomputer, scientists were finally able to recreate the virus in the virtual realm, and now can study it more easily in order to understand how it works and devise better treatments.
Viral infection is a major threat to public health in many areas, especially in developing nations where people may live in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions allowing for the easy spread of disease and in areas where preventive care, such as vaccines, aren’t readily available.
Other technological advances are also enabling medical researchers and personnel to improve virus detection and treatment, such as a public health program using cell phones to track and report cholera infections in Haiti and a mobile app allowing medical professionals to diagnose malaria by taking a photo. As both computers and mobile devices get faster and more advanced, their place in medical research, diagnosis and treatment is likely to grow.
The H1N1 pandemic spread worldwide in 2009, affecting more than 74 countries and killing thousands. In the U.S., nearly 4,000 people died from the virus. Although the World Health Organization now classifies H1N1 as “post-pandemic status,” the illness and viruses like it still pose a danger worldwide, highlighting the importance of research using computer simulation in avoiding similar pandemics in the future.