Gamers have devoted countless years of collective brainpower to rescuing princesses or protecting the planet against alien invasions. This week researchers at the University of Washington will try to harness those finely honed skills to make medical discoveries, perhaps even finding a cure for HIV.
A new game, named Foldit, turns protein folding into a competitive sport. Introductory levels teach the rules, which are the same laws of physics by which protein strands curl and twist into three-dimensional shapes key for biological mysteries ranging from Alzheimer's to vaccines.
After about 20 minutes of training, people feel like they're playing a video game but are actually mouse-clicking in the name of medical science. The free program is at http://fold.it/.
The game was developed by doctoral student Seth Cooper and postdoctoral researcher Adrien Treuille, both in computer science and engineering, working with Zoran Popovic, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering; David Baker, a UW professor of biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; and David Salesin, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. Professional game designers provided advice during the game's creation.
"We're hopefully going to change the way science is done, and who it's done by," said Popovic, who presented the project today at the Games for Health meeting in Baltimore. "Our ultimate goal is to have ordinary people play the game and eventually be candidates for winning the Nobel Prize."
Proteins, of which there are more than 100,000 different kinds in the human body, form every cell, make up the immune system and set the speed of chemical reactions. We know many proteins' genetic sequence, but don't know how they fold up into complex shapes whose nooks and crannies play crucial biological roles.
Computer simulators calculate all possible protein shapes, but this is a mathematical
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington