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March 13, 2013

Computing for a Cure

Tiffany Trader

A new distributed computing project, called Quantum Cures, was recently established to help find treatments and cures for orphan and rare diseases. The Quantum Cures Foundation is investigating new small molecules as potential drug candidates for diseases such as spina bifida, cleft palates, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sleeping sickness, and others. These are examples of orphan, rare and neglected (ORN) diseases, which don’t receive a lot of attention from major drug companies even though they may affect millions of people worldwide.

A 2005 report from the National Institutes of Health Office of Rare Diseases stated that there are 6,000–7,000 rare diseases that affect 25 million Americans, and one in 10 Americans will be diagnosed with a rare disease during their lifetime. The FDA classifies the vast majority of rare diseases as serious or life threatening.

Medical researchers have compiled a list of “targets” proteins that are implicated in disease pathways, but when it comes to testing compound drugs against these proteins, computing resources are limited. That’s where volunteer computing can really make a difference.

Distributed, or volunteer, computing models, like the well-known SETI@home project, draw on otherwise-idle computing cycles to create a virtual supercomputer. The research possibilities are as unlimited as the untapped computing potential of the volunteer machines.

Quantum Cures Co-Founder Lawrence Husick agrees with this sentiment: “There is substantial interest in and reason to pursue development of treatment and cures for a wide range of diseases which have, up until now, not received the attention they deserve,” he said. “By enlisting the help and computer time from many people, we can begin to deliver the resources needed to find the answers, and improve the quality of life of millions, both today and in the future.”

Quantum Cures plans to enlist the help of tens of thousands of volunteers around the United States who allow their computers’ spare cycles to be used for research purposes. The free program, which has been donated by TeraDiscoveries, will be available on the Quantum Cures website in June. Interested parties can sign up at www.quantumcures.org.

Quantum Cures is also looking for research partners. Researchers working with drug targets for orphan, rare and neglected diseases are invited to submit a proposal to the Quantum Cures Foundation for a molecular design project. If selected, a portion of donated computer time will be put toward the design of new drug and vaccine candidate molecules.