March 13, 2020 | Written by: Anders Quitzau and
Categorized: Power 9 | Technology | Watson
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US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL) has deployed the world’s most powerful and smartest supercomputer, the IBM built Summit, in the fight against COVID-19.
Researchers from ORNLwere granted emergency computation time on Summit, using it to perform simulations with unprecedented speed.
In just 2 days Summit identified and studied 77 small-molecule drug potential compounds to fight against the COVID-19 (new Coronavirus). A task that – using a traditional wet-lab approach – would have taken years.
Learn more about Summit here
The researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory used Summit to perform simulations of more than 8,000 possible compounds to screen for those that have the most opportunity to have an impact on the disease, by binding to the main “spike” protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells.
They ranked the compounds of interest that could have value in experimental studies of the virus *
Why a supercomputer is needed to fight the coronavirus
Viruses infect cells by binding to them and using a ‘spike’ to inject their genetic material into the host cell. To understand new biological compounds, like viruses, researchers in wet labs grow the micro-organism and see how it reacts in real-life to the introduction of new compounds. This is a slow process without powerful computers that can perform digital simulations to narrow down the range of potential variables.
Computer simulations can examine how different variables react with different viruses. Each of these individual variables can comprise billions of unique data points. When these data points are compounded with multiple simulations, this can become a very time-intensive process if a conventional computing system is used.
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Still some way to go, though
The results from Summit don’t mean that a cure or treatment for the new coronavirus has been found. But scientists hope that the computational findings will inform future studies and provide a focused framework for wet-labs to further investigate the compounds. Only then will we know if any of them have the needed characteristics to attack and kill the virus.
But no doubt – Summit has helped shrink the front end part of the process of conventional methods, scientists would normally have used.
IBM Watson in action, too, against Covid-19 and its impact
In addition to having Summit’s computational power used in the fight, our Watson Health unit is working directly with health organizations around the world to better understand the nature of COVID-19. The IBM Clinical Development system has been made available without charge to national health agencies to reduce the time and cost of clinical trials by providing data and analysis from web-enabled devices.
And our cognitive Operational Risk Insight tool has been made available to not-for-profit organizations, charged with information about the virus spread.
* Results published the results on ChemRxiv that the novel Wuhan coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been sequenced, and the virus shares substantial similarity with SARS-CoV.
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