Scripps begins world's largest computer-based project against malaria

Malaria may have lost big when IBM's ($IBM) Watson supercomputer won Jeopardy! in February. Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA have garnered a portion of Watson's winnings from the game show to mount the largest-ever computational project to combat drug-resistant malaria. Watson's providing the money, but the scientists are using a supercomputer of another sort for the major undertaking.

The researchers plan to tap the World Community Grid, which consists of some 2 million PCs from more than half a million volunteers who have made their computers available for computing jobs. With computing capacity from the volunteers' machines, the Scripps scientists plan to crunch data on millions of potential compounds to home in on proteins that the deadliest malaria-causing parasite needs to survive, according to the group's post on IBM's blog. The goal is to discover new drugs that can treat people with malaria who didn't get vaccinated or whose vaccination wore off after a while.

The project is taking aim at the most deadly form of malaria, which is caused by the parasite called Plasmodium falciparum. While many cases of malaria are curable, certain forms of the infectious disease have built up resistance to the drugs. According to the World Health Organization, there were 781,000 deaths and 225 million cases of malaria in 2009. Malaria kills a child in Africa every 45 seconds, the organization said on its website.

Before starting the malaria project, Scripps scientists used the World Community Grid to find two compounds to attack multi-drug resistant HIV, according to the group. Computer-based analysis of compounds and disease-related proteins is nothing new, but recently members of the public have been empowered through organizations such as the World Community Grid and the online video game Foldit to help find answers to difficult scientific questions.

- here's the release
- check out the blog post

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