World’s Fastest Supercomputer Joins The Battle Against COVID-19

by | Mar 23, 2020 | Technology News

CoronaVirus now has a new fearsome enemy: the world’s fastest supercomputer. Scientists of the Tennessee University are using the IBM-built supercomputer SUMMIT to sift through thousands of molecules and find potential compounds that could be used as a new drug for SARS-CoV-2, which is the coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic.

After several days of calculations, this supercomputer has managed to find at least 77 compounds that shows they could potentially help to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from invading human body. This research was recently published in a paper available on the preprint server ChemRxiv. Which means that the paper is awaiting peer-review, so this research can be considered a work in progress.

The body surface of coronavirus is covered in spiky crown-like proteins (hence the name) that allows the virus to bind to and infect human body, something like a lock and key. Understanding the viruses’ proteins and the host receptors of cells of human body, also the way other chemical compounds interact with them, it’s very much possible to find out how the drugs might be effective against this pathogen.

Supercomputer SUMMIT was used to thoroughly analyze a database of over 8,000 compounds that are known from existing chemicals, naturals products, medicines, and herbal medicines. What it did was to sniff out compounds that potentially appear to be capable of binding to the SARS-CoV-2 protein spikes, thereby blocking the virus’s key like structure and theoretically stopping it from invading the cells of body. It took the supercomputer a day or two while it would have taken months on a normal computer, study author Jeremy Smith said in a statement, director of the Tennessee Center for Molecular Biophysics.

Although there is no guarantee any of the compounds found by the supercomputer will effect practically. Furthermore, just like any other drug, it does require extensive trials and clinical testings before we see it as a treatment. Still the work of supercomputer has helped to identify quite promising candidates for biophysicists to follow up on.
These results do not mean that a cure has been found or treatment for COVID-19, said Smith. This is quite hopeful that this computation will both help future studies and give a framework that researchers will investigate these compounds further. Only after that will we know whether any of them shows the characteristics needed to mitigate this virus.

This IBM-built SUMMIT is also described as the Formula One of supercomputers. It is Found in Tennessee at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, this supercomputer SUMMIT is actually the size of two tennis courts and is capable of processing per second calculations of over 200 quadrillion. It is used by different scientists and researchers for a variety of noble missions, from crunching data about cancer and genetics to modeling environment and the supernovas. This is not the first time to use computers for research to find new drugs. In last month, scientists used a novel computer algorithm to sift through a vast digital archive of chemical compounds of over 100 million and discovered a molecule that seemed to have some truly remarkable antibiotic properties.

By: Tom Hale

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