Team Tries to Render Cells Deaf to HIV

By Cronin, Mike | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 4, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Team Tries to Render Cells Deaf to HIV

Cronin, Mike, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

An anti-HIV drug might someday work by simply telling cell proteins to ignore the virus, researchers theorize.

Judith Klein-Seetharaman, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute, heads a team using statistical computer methods that analyze languages to identify which proteins might listen to that kind of drug and not the HIV virus.

"We want to find a way so HIV is not the dominant communicator among proteins," Klein-Seetharaman said. "If the virus is telling the cell not to divide, the drug would say, 'Cell, do divide! It doesn't matter what the virus is telling you.' "

Klein-Seetharaman won one of 104 grants for $100,000 each that the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded last month. The money is part of a program to fund research into innovative approaches to global health problems. Researchers from 22 countries and five continents earned grants. About 4,000 applied.

If the team can show the foundation proof the concept works by July, it could win a $1 million grant to pay for five years of research, said Klein-Seetharaman, 37, who also is a neuroscience professor at the University of London and heads the Centre for Biomedical Sciences there.

By using computational linguistics, the scientists will try to understand the language of proteins by viewing gene sequences "like texts in human languages" and find out which "words" are used by proteins that interact with one another, as opposed to those that don't, Klein-Seetharaman said.

How many proteins interact is unknown, said Oznur Tastan, 27, a doctoral student at CMU who has worked on the project for more than a year.

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Team Tries to Render Cells Deaf to HIV


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