Nav: Home

Tuberculosis to be tackled using crowd-sourced computer power

March 24, 2016

The University of Nottingham is launching a new study to address tuberculosis (TB), one of the world's most deadly diseases, supported by IBM's World Community Grid -- one of the most powerful and fastest virtual supercomputers on the planet.

Hundreds of thousands of volunteers from around the world are expected to donate vast computing resources to aid the effort. Well-established in the US, this is the first time World Community Grid has supported a UK research project.

Launched today, the new "Help Stop TB" project on World Community Grid will model aspects of the behaviour of tuberculosis bacteria to better understand its potential vulnerabilities that new medicines may one day exploit.

Volunteers are needed to make the processing power on their devices available, when otherwise not being used, to perform the millions of calculations necessary for these simulations.

Crowd-sourcing a virtual supercomputer -- facilitated for free by IBM to study the disease - in this manner will provide results significantly faster than relying on conventional computational resources typically available to researchers.

Tuberculosis has plagued humans for thousands of years. Approximately one third of the globe's human population harbours TB today and 1.5 million people died from it in 2014 alone, prompting the World Health Organization to rank TB alongside HIV as the world's deadliest infectious disease.

Dr Anna Croft, lead researcher of the Help Stop TB project and Associate Professor, Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham in the UK, says: "My team will use 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."

Although several drugs and a partially effective vaccine have been developed to help combat TB, the TB bacterium can evolve to resist available medicines, particularly when patients interrupt or discontinue treatment, which often occurs when they do not have consistent access to medications and medical care.

Nearly half of European cases are now resistant to at least one drug, and four per cent of all cases worldwide are resistant to treatment regimens that combine drugs. HIV patients with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to TB.

Tuberculosis can be a slow killer, often dormant for long periods of time before exploiting poor nutrition, old age or a weakened immune system to become active. It is most often spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, laughs or even talks.

Symptoms can start with cough, weight loss, and fever, developing into breathing difficulties and violent coughs that bring up blood. Initially residing in the lungs, it can spread to, and cripple, other organs.

The tuberculosis 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 as a philanthropic effort by IBM in 2004. 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 from 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," Dr Croft adds.

More than three million computers and mobile devices used by nearly three quarters of a million people globally and 470 institutions from 80 countries have contributed virtual super-computing power that have fueled more than two-dozen vitally important projects on World Community Grid over the last 11 years.

Since the program's inception, World Community Grid has enabled important scientific advances in areas such as cancer research, AIDS treatments, genetic mapping, solar energy and ecosystem preservation. Many of these efforts might not have even been attempted without the free super-computing power provided by IBM's World Community Grid.

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 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 Engage with the Help Stop TB project via social media on: Facebook/ and @WCGrid (Twitter). Dr Anna Croft shares more on the Help Stop TB project on the IBM Citizen blog

University of Nottingham

Related Immune System Articles:

The immune system may explain skepticism towards immigrants
There is a strong correlation between our fear of infection and our skepticism towards immigrants.
New insights on how pathogens escape the immune system
The bacterium Salmonella enterica causes gastroenteritis in humans and is one of the leading causes of food-borne infectious diseases.
Understanding how HIV evades the immune system
Monash University (Australia) and Cardiff University (UK) researchers have come a step further in understanding how the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) evades the immune system.
Carbs during workouts help immune system recovery
Eating carbohydrates during intense exercise helps to minimise exercise-induced immune disturbances and can aid the body's recovery, QUT research has found.
A new model for activation of the immune system
By studying a large protein (the C1 protein) with X-rays and electron microscopy, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have established a new model for how an important part of the innate immune system is activated.
Guards of the human immune system unraveled
Dendritic cells represent an important component of the immune system: they recognize and engulf invaders, which subsequently triggers a pathogen-specific immune response.
How our immune system targets TB
Researchers have seen, for the very first time, how the human immune system recognizes tuberculosis (TB).
How a fungus inhibits the immune system of plants
A newly discovered protein from a fungus is able to suppress the innate immune system of plants.
A new view of the immune system
Pathogen epitopes are fragments of bacterial or viral proteins. Nearly a third of all existing human epitopes consist of two different fragments.
TB tricks the body's immune system to allow it to spread
Tuberculosis tricks the immune system into attacking the body's lung tissue so the bacteria are allowed to spread to other people, new research from the University of Southampton suggests.

Related Immune System Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...