Smallpox-fighting screensaver unveiled

Several technology vendors and research groups have teamed up on a new screensaver that devotes unused desktop-computing cycles to the search for antismallpox drugs.

Results from the Smallpox Research Grid Project will be turned over to the Defense Department, said Ed Hubbard, chief executive officer of United Devices Inc. of Austin, Texas.

Currently the only method of preventing smallpox, a potential bioterrorism agent, is the use of a vaccine. The vaccine, however, can trigger severe side effects, and in the event of a terrorist attack with smallpox, physicians would need a drug for treating disease victims.

The screensaver will run simulated tests of molecules representing some of 35 million drugs to see how they interact with several protein targets on a smallpox virus. The goal, Hubbard said, is to find a drug that will stop the virus from reproducing itself within the human body.

The project uses United Devices' grid-computing software to coordinate the project, Hubbard said. The downloadable PC screensaver uses LigandFit software from Accelrys Inc. of San Diego to test the simulated molecules. It is available at

Scientists at Oxford University in England contributed a database of 35 million druglike molecules culled from several commercially available chemical libraries. IBM Corp. contributed several p690 servers and DB2 database software to handle the distribution of screensaver client software and work units, said Michael Nelson, IBM's director of Internet strategy.

DOD officials approached United Devices about applying grid-computing strategies toward a smallpox-drug project because the company had completed a similar anthrax-drug effort after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hubbard said.

Depending on the number of PCs running the screensaver and the time it takes to validate the collected data, the grid team could deliver results to DOD in about two months, Hubbard said.

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