In Spain, researchers have used a computation method to determine how a particular protein allows HIV to make its rapid progress to maturity. The technology used involves molecular simulation, which allowed the researchers to observe how particles of the virus go from being inert in their original form, to becoming fully infectious particles that then spread throughout the body and weaken the immune system.

HIV virions (a complete and infectious version of the disease) are formed as the result of a protein called protease, which also allows HIV particles to reach the fully mature form required for them to replicate. Protease cuts through a chain of HIV proteins much the way we would use scissors to cut a piece of paper – the proteins that are cut away can then be the basis of a new HIV virion.

The unusual thing is that the protease is itself part of the chain – this means that before cutting up the other proteins, it has to cut itself away from the chain, making this the absolute first step in the maturation of HIV.

This is therefore the stage of the virus that researchers are targeting as the best place to stop HIV, because if the protease never breaks away, the individual particles will never become infectious and the disease will not spread or harm the body in any way.

The supercomputer that is responsible for the simulation uses accelerated graphics processing units, which allows it to operate at ten times the speed of a computer using a normal central processing unit for rendering the same type of data.

Researchers hope that this discovery will signal a change in the whole process of developing new drugs to fight HIV at the protein level. Even at this time, the study has given researchers greater insight into a disease that is the bane of millions across the globe.