A new computer model developed by scientists at the University of Southern Denmark has proven itself to be a powerful ally in the fight against AIDS, according to recent research.
The advancement speeds up the development process of anti-HIV drugs several hundred percent, effectively doing in months or even weeks what used to take years.
Effective treatment of HIV, the virus known to cause AIDS, is a race against time. Many drugs initially developed by scientists, once potent killers of the HIV-virus, have now been rendered useless because the virus has built up a resistance to them. As a result science must constantly develop new drugs that can attack the virus in new ways.
"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," researcher Vasantanathan Poongavanam, from the University of Southern Denmark (USD), explained in a statement.
However, finding new compounds that can specifically inhibit the HIV virus, a major focus in AIDS research, is easier said than done. Researchers compare it to finding a needle in a haystack.
"It takes enormous amounts of time and resources, to go through millions and millions of compounds. With the techniques used today, it may take years to carry out a screening of possible compounds," Poongavanam said. On average, that's about 14 years to be exact, from the time scientists find a drug candidate to the time it goes up on the market.
Until now, slow computers and inaccurate prediction models have made the fight against AIDS a losing battle, with scientists always two steps behind. But SDU researchers have managed to develop an effective model at a time when significantly more powerful computers have become available.
"Our work shows that computer based predictions are a extremely fast, accurate and promising methodology in the drug discovery projects," added Poongavanam.
So far, the new computer model has identified 14 compounds from half a million, in a matter of weeks, that effectively inhibit HIV virus's ability to reproduce. If they are positive, the compounds may go on the market as a drug against HIV.
The findings were published in the journal Integrative Biology.
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