UCL News


UCL's computing power contributes to tackling bird flu

5 May 2006

A network of computers spanning 11 UK universities and research labs has spent four weeks analysing potential drugs to combat avian flu, it was revealed yesterday.

The UK Particle Physics Grid is a network of computers that was put together to process the massive volumes of data generated by particle physics experiments. While it was designed to address questions related to the conditions in the universe just after the big bang, its computing power can also be put to use for more immediate requirements. Today it is part of a wider project called Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE), which lets other scientists share its resources.

During four weeks in April, EGEE used 2000 computers to test the theoretical efficiency of 300,000 possible drug components in combating the H5N1 strain of avian flu. In the lab, this would be a time-consuming process, but the computer network achieved the same volume of work as a single computer could manage in 100 years. Sixty thousand output files with a data volume of 600 gigabytes were produced. With the results, it is now possible to identify and rank drug compounds against H5N1.

Professor Tony Doyle, UK Particle Physics Grid Project Leader, said: "The Grid is useful for any kind of research that needs lots of computing power. In this case it's greatly speeded up a step in the search for drugs against avian flu, and we've been pleased to use the UK Particle Physics Grid to help."

An epidemic of avian flu, which is endemic in other parts of the world, is widely feared in the UK as the disease is carried by migrating birds. The H5N1 strain of the virus can be transmitted to humans, so developing effective drugs to combat it is a high priority for the scientific community.

UCL is among the UK institutions involved in the GridPP project, which runs the UK Particle Physics Grid.