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Biology and Chemistry Research in Drug Discovery

March 14, 2013
Dr. Charlotte Berkes and Dr. Jimmy Franco are using a supercomputer to collaborate on research into new drugs to treat people with HIV, histoplasmosis and tuberculosis. Their results could improve the quality of life for thousands of people.

            HIV has led to resurgences of cases of histoplasmosis – a fungal disease similar to pneumonia – and TB, diseases that attack people with compromised immune systems.

            Working with a computer science colleague in Virginia, Berkes and Franco have received grants of supercomputing time from the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE).

            When they provide the supercomputer with the three-dimensional shape of HIV and histoplasma proteins, “the supercomputer then searches through millions of potential drug molecules to find drugs that ‘fit,’ kind of like a lock and key,’’ says Berkes, a biologist.

            As more drug-resistant strains of TB and HIV emerge, “the need for novel mechanisms of treating TB and HIV is increasingly important,” says Franco, a chemist. “We have made some very good progress in the last year.”

            Their work has positive impact for both faculty and students.

            When scientists from different fields collaborate on a common goal, says Berkes, “progress can be made much faster than if we were working in isolation.”

            Biology major Jessica Gukra is thrilled to help: “My work with them on their research has given me an appreciation for the fields of biology and chemistry, as well as unbelievable experience with lab work, critical thinking and problem solving.’’


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