UT computer science professor develops new software to aid in disease treatment

David Maly

UT computer science professor Chandrajit Bajaj and his team of researchers have developed new software capable of determining which compounds will best treat diseases using less information than was previously required. Bajaj said this could lead to new developments in the fight against serious diseases including Machupo virus, dengue fever and HIV.

Prior to this software, determining possible cures for a disease would have normally required the 3-D atomistic model of both the target and associated protein cells of a virus. Because those models aren’t currently available for various diseases, past research has been difficult. Bajaj’s new software, however, can use the simpler 3-D quasi-atomistic model of those cells to determine possible cures.

Bajaj said this is possible through the use of his improved algorithms for the image reconstruction and modeling of cells. Now, researchers can use the improved algorithms to study the necessary detail on the 3-D quasi-atomistic cell model needed to determine which drugs are most likely prevent or treat a disease. Prior to the improved algorithms, that detail could only be appropriately studied on the more advanced 3-D atomistic model, which is less available.

In a February 2012 paper in the Journal of Structural Biology by Bajaj, research associate Qin Zhang presented these algorithmic improvements and explained their significance. Zhang said the software will greatly help with drug research in the future by allowing scientists to research viruses without using the 3-D atomistic model.

“The research will help to solve many difficult problems,” Zhang said.

Bajaj said thus far his technology has mostly been applied to HIV research, but he has been approached by individuals wishing to use it for work on other viruses. “HIV is just the first example,” Bajaj said. “We already have several other people interested in applying this technology to many, many other cases. Each one is where they don’t have an atomistic model to begin with, and there is not any solution available other than ours.”

He said in terms of HIV research, his technology could be used to determine preventative cures for the virus. On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gilead Sciences, Inc.’s Truvada, a pill to be marketed as a preventative measure against HIV.

Truvada is to be taken daily by those at high risk for HIV, but is not meant to treat those already infected. Controversy over the drug has emerged due to its cost of up to $14,000 a year and its less than 100 percent effectiveness, which could give users of the drug a false sense of security.