FAHcon 2012 : Professor Peter Kasson

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During Folding@Home conference 2012, Professor Peter Kasson of University of Virginia presented his work on the influenza virus and he explained why this virus attracted so much attention.

First, the influenza virus kills about 40 000 people in the USA every year and many more worldwide. These are mostly children under 2 and adults over 60. This is obviously something that concerns us because everyone hopes to have children in good health and to live beyond the age of 60 … Second, influenza has proven track records of causing global mass-mortality, such as in 1918. A similar virus today could easily kill much more than 60 million people and we’d like to be prepared. Finally, the influenza virus is an interesting model for understanding other viruses such as HIV and cancer-causing viruses such as HPV (Human papillomavirus), Heptatitis C, and Epstein-Barr virus. It might surprise you, but many cancers are associated to a virus and these form an important area of prevention.

Folding@home has done a lot of work on how influenza virus enters into cells to replicate. This is an important therapeutic target and it is critical to understand why some viruses like H5N1 (“bird flu”;) have not become efficiently transmissible between people. Some of the recent work on the topic focuses on the folding of the cell membrane which is necessary for viral entry. Professor Kasson’s team obtained interesting results and we will post a news article when they are published.

The researcher also presented a promising new software suite: Copernicus. Peter Kasson’s, Eric Lindhal’s and Vijay Pande’s teams published a paper back in 2011 on the topic and they have pursued developments. Copernicus essentially makes the back-end control of large-scale simulations much more transparent, so FAH researchers will be more easily able to integrate new methods. This software also works on supercomputers and cloud computing platforms which makes it easier to run simulations that complement the simulations run on Folding@Home. It also allows other researchers from outside FAH to gain access to the kind of simulations we run on FAH. All these changes are on server side, so the donors should not notice any difference in the client behaviour. But thanks to Copernicus, we should see new research areas appear.

Source: Vijay’s blog