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Scientists take the fight to HIV using Nvidia GPUs

Spanish medical researchers are tapping the power of thousands of networked PCs sporting Nvidia video cards to battle HIV, the virus that causes AIDs, according to the graphics chip maker.

The project resulted in a successful simulation of the protein, "HIV protease", which could be a key breakthrough in our understanding of how the virus matures and becomes infectious.

Researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) in Barcelona have been using the volunteer distributed-computing resource to crunch through computing processes at a "level of processing power that once was only available on dedicated, multi-million dollar supercomputers," Nvidia noted in a blog post Tuesday.

Similar to past utilisation of networked PCs for distributing intensive computing efforts like SETI@home, offers researchers the power of "a virtual supercomputer" by linking off-the-shelf computers via installed software downloaded by project volunteers.

The network's GPUs are instructed to devote unused resources to the project at hand—in this case, demonstrating "how HIV 'scissors proteins' can cut themselves out from within the middle of poly-protein chains," believed to initiate the infectious phase of the virus—without interrupting normal computer use by volunteers.

Using, the IMIM and UPF bioinformaticians were "able to run thousands of complex computer simulations of HIV protease, each for hundreds of nanoseconds for a total of almost a millisecond," according to Nvidia. That exercise gave the research team a high level of confidence that the simulation represented real-world behaviours, the company said.

The team is now applying derived information in the development of new antiretroviral drugs that could potentially stop the HIV virus reaching the communicable stage.

Image Credit: Flickr(phalinn)