Computers Against HIV: A Striking Ally

Research into eliminating HIV and AIDS has always been a battle against time. Certain compounds that were once successful in destroying the virus cells, or in causing them to become sterile or inefficacious, are now worthless against the virus. This is a direct result of the ability of HIV to constantly mutate and adapt. Thus, new compounds are continually needed, and new methods of treatment are constantly sought after. One group of researchers, based at the University of Southern Denmark, are exploring methods that would accelerate the very process of finding new compounds that can be used against the HIV cells. What they’ve successfully done is to use computers to find potential compounds against HIV—at a rate magnified by several hundred percent! It might be said, then, that the use of computers against HIV has enlisted a formidable new ally in the war against HIV.

The problem is not the lack of compounds that have the potential to destroy or effectively stop the HIV cells. These days, scientists are able to reproduce almost anything imaginable in their laboratories. The problem is to effectively find and identify those compounds. By using computers based on quantum physics – which speed up processing times by several fold – the researchers at USD were able to pinpoint compounds that have varied effects on the HIV cells.

Many of these compounds do not kill the cells outright but, instead, stop HIV cells from being able to reproduce. ‘HIV is a retrovirus that contains enzymes which make it able to copy itself with the help of host genetic material and thus reproduce. If you can block these enzymes’ ability to replicate itself, the virus cannot reproduce.’ This is according to Vasanthanathan Poongavanam, a member of the research team at Southern Denmark. The group was able to identify 25 promising compounds. When the 25 compounds were then tested using the group’s advanced computer systems the field was narrowed to 14, which inhibited the virus’s ability to reproduce. ‘It took us only a few weeks to find these 14 very interesting compounds, whereas before it would have taken years.’ All of this illustrates that using computers against HIV has brought a daunting new player onto the field.