3D Model Puts Common Cold in Researchers’ Sights

Sneeze

If a new 3D simulation is as helpful as its creators hope, you might spend a lot less time in the future with the sniffles.

Researchers in Melbourne have simulated the movement of the human rhinovirus on Australia’s fastest supercomputer. The 3D model was created on the IBM Blue Gene Q, which was just delivered to the University of Melbourne earlier in July.

The model looks suitably creepy – a bit like a nest of earthworms surrounded by brightly-colored gummy candy. Rhinovirus is thought to be responsible for about 40 percent of cases of the common cold, as well as a contributing factor in other conditions.

The research focuses on an experimental drug by pharmaceutical company Biota that halts the spread of the virus. The drug is intended to stop a cold from complicating the condition of someone with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis. The head researcher, Professor Michael Parker with St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, said the benefits of the simulation weren’t limited to curtailing the common cold.

“An increase in understanding how existing drugs work with one virus will pave the way for the development of new anti-viral medications for these related viruses and hopefully save lives around the world,” he said. Rhinovirus is related to polio and meningitis viruses.

Earlier work has involved running simulations on only parts of the rhinovirus. A more complete 3D model can enable a more thorough analysis.

“The IBM Blue Gene Q will provide us with extraordinary 3D computer simulations of the whole virus in a time frame not even dreamt of before,” Parker said. “Supercomputer technology enables us to delve deeper in the mechanisms at play inside a human cell, particularly how drugs work at a molecular level.”

In a Brisbane Times video, Melbourne University computational scientist Michael Kuiper explains that every atom of the virus has now been modeled using Blue Gene Q’s 64,000 processors. So don’t try this feat at home just yet.


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