OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WLNS) – The world’s fastest supercomputer identified chemicals that could stop coronavirus from spreading, which experts say is a crucial step toward a vaccine.
IBM’s supercomputer “Summit” ran thousands of simulations to analyze which drug compounds might effectively stop the virus from infecting host cells. It identified 77 such chemicals, according to a report from CNN.
Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory published their findings in the journal ChemRxiv.
Summit was commissioned by the US Department of Energy in 2014 to help solve the world’s problems. At its station in Tennessee, Summit has identified patterns in cellular systems that precede Alzheimer’s, analyzed genes that contribute to traits like opioid addiction and predicted extreme weather based on climate simulations.
It’s got the power of 200 petaflops, which means it has the computing speed of 200 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s about a million times more powerful than the fastest laptop.
Summit modeled how different drug compounds might prevent the coronavirus from spreading to other cells.
Viruses infect host cells by injecting them with a “spike” of genetic material. Summit’s job is to find chemicals that could block that process.
The supercomputer ran simulations of over 8,000 compounds, found 77 that could be effective, then ranked them based on how likely they were to bind to the spike.
The team will run the simulations on Summit again, using a more accurate model of the coronavirus’ spike that was published this month. Experimental studies will be required to prove which chemicals work best.
“Our results don’t mean that we have found a cure or treatment for the coronavirus,” said Jeremy Smith, director of the University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory Center for Molecular Biophysics, in a statement.
But the findings could inform future studies on how to create the most effective coronavirus vaccine.
“Only then will we know whether any of them exhibit the characteristics needed to mitigate this virus.”
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