The Null Device
In recent medical/biotechnological breakthroughs: players in an online game simulating protein folding have successfully determined the 3-dimensional structure of a protein in a simian virus related to HIV, a hard problem which is not feasible to do with brute-force computation:
Teams of players collaborate to tweak a molecule’s model by folding it up in different ways. The result looks somewhat tangled, but each one is scored on criteria such as how tightly folded it is and whether the fold avoids atoms clashing. The structure with the highest score wins. Anyone can play and most of the gamers have little or no background in biochemistry.
“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at. Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.”Meanwhile, an experiment in using genetically modified HIV to destroy cancer cells has worked spectacularly well, with an experimental patient apparently having been cured of leukaemia, and remaining in full remission one year later:
At first, nothing happened. But after 10 days, hell broke loose in his hospital room. He began shaking with chills. His temperature shot up. His blood pressure shot down. He became so ill that doctors moved him into intensive care and warned that he might die. His family gathered at the hospital, fearing the worst. A few weeks later, the fevers were gone. And so was the leukemia.
But scientists say the treatment that helped Mr. Ludwig ... may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer. And not just for leukemia patients: other cancers may also be vulnerable to this novel approach — which employs a disabled form of H.I.V.-1, the virus that causes AIDS, to carry cancer-fighting genes into the patients’ T-cells. In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.Meanwhile, HIV research has yielded an unexpected boon, in the form of cats that glow in the dark.