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Group Studies HIV/AIDS Drug Effectiveness

New Pittsburgh Courier, News Report, Rebecca Nuttall Posted: Jan 07, 2009

For almost 10 years Marcela Madrid of Pittsburgh Supercomputing has been working to find a cure for AIDS. More specifically, she is trying to create a more effective drug for those living with the disease.

By creating a more effective drug, Madrid can decrease the number of medications HIV positive patients must take. The future implications of her research are endless and could one day lead to a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

As you know, the problem with AIDS is that the virus mutates, Madrid said. So when a person takes a drug it will work in the beginning and then it stops working and you need to take more and more different drugs, usually like a cocktail of drugs.

This research is done through the use of models and simulations. Essentially, Madrid can simulate how the drugs affect the virus and watch the mutation.

We are trying to develop a drug that will be effective even when they have this type of mutation, Madrid said. So were looking particularly at one protein that is part of the AIDS virus and we are trying to understand how that protein moves and how it interacts with the DNA of the virus and how drugs bind to the protein.

They take their findings and then try to modify the drugs while working with pharmaceutical companies to develop an actual product.

Currently there is a drug soon to be on the market, which is as effective as taking eight pills of other drugs. This drug is being simulated to study its properties in order to replicate its effectiveness.

Its like taking too much penicillin. Eventually penicillin doesnt work in our country because we all have taken so much penicillin that we become immune to it so we need stronger strength, PSCs economic development liaison George Matta said. With AIDS you need to take a much stronger cocktail because it starts to wear down the effectiveness of it.

Their research could eventually help to decrease the high cost of medicine, which currently hinders its availability to those in other countries who are unable to afford it.

Supercomputing centers do research in many other areas that affect a persons day to day like including predicting weather patterns. This can involve predicting tornadoes to give residents in the area ample time to find shelter.

The researches are able to create models of the human body including internal organs. They can also simulate how viruses and diseases spread such as the bird flu and the common cold.

We have a national center of biomedical supercomputing, said Shandra Williams who is PSCs senior media designer. Essentially the biomedical group, they look at everything.

This research is funded through the National Science Foundation, which receives its funds from taxpayer dollars.

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