Fighting disease, one molecule at a time

June 7, 2010 in in_the_news

TORONTO, June 7 2010/CNW/ – Scientists at the Hospital for Sick Children are working to improve your health — and they’re doing it on a computer. The world-class computing power of SciNet, Canada’s newest supercomputer, has allowed Dr. Régis Pomès and his team to conduct fundamental health research.

“In order to study biological systems at the molecular level, we use SciNet to perform simulations on thousands of computers simultaneously,” says Dr. Pomès. “SciNet has completely changed our perspective on our own work. We are no longer making incremental progress; instead, we are implementing new approaches we weren’t even dreaming of before.”

Over the past six months, these theory-based biochemists have gained fundamental insight into the molecular mechanisms that underpin the elasticity of skin and blood vessels, the mode of action of a new Alzheimer’s drug candidate, and the battle between our immune systems and the bacteria that make us sick. Their findings will be reported today at the High Performance Computing Symposium (HPCS), Canada’s foremost supercomputing conference, by PhD candidates Grace Li, Chris Neale and Sarah Rauscher.

”]The spring-like elasticity of skin, lungs, blood vessels, and uterine tissue is imparted by the protein elastin. Human life is entirely dependent on the elasticity and resilience of this remarkable protein. Because of its exceptional properties, elastin is ideal for incorporation in artificial skin to treat burn victims, vascular grafts for heart patients, and scaffolds for tissue regeneration. Large-scale computer simulations of elastin are providing the molecular insight necessary for the design of elastin-based biomaterials.

High performance computing is being used to study how a drug candidate, scyllo-inositol, may combat neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's patients. SciNet's computing power is crucial to the investigation of small-molecule therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer's and related neurodegenerative diseases.

One out of eight people aged 65 or older has Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is approaching epidemic proportions in our aging population with no cure or preventative therapy in sight. High performance computing is being used to study how a drug candidate, scyllo-inositol, may combat neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s patients. SciNet’s computing power is crucial to the investigation of small-molecule therapeutics for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative diseases.

The SciNet supercomputer is used to investigate how antimicrobial agents function in molecular detail, a key step toward rationally designing new antibiotic drugs that work in similar ways.

Our bodies are constantly attacked by bacteria, yet most of the time we don’t get sick. Instead, our immune system destroys these bacteria before they reproduce. For some people, however, a weakened immune system is unable to clear the invaders on its own. The SciNet supercomputer is used to investigate how antimicrobial agents function in molecular detail, a key step toward rationally designing new antibiotic drugs that work in similar ways.

More information is available at http://hpcs2010.scinet.utoronto.ca/press/sickkids .

About SciNet:

SciNet is Canada’s largest supercomputer centre, providing Canadian researchers with the computational resources and expertise necessary to perform their research on scales not previously possible in Canada, from the biomedical sciences and aerospace engineering to astrophysics and climate science. More information is available at http://www.scinet.utoronto.ca .

About HPCS2010:

The High Performance Computing Symposium is Canada’s foremost research supercomputing conference. The 24th HPCS takes place at the University of Toronto on June 5-9, with the theme of `Data Intensive Computing: Across Disciplines, Across Canada’.