Understanding the Immune Response to HIV
HIV killed 260,000 children in 2009 with a disproportionate number of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa (HIV, Wikipedia; UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). Even in the United States, while no longer a death sentence, HIV requires expensive, life-long treatment. In 2011, investigators from the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University; Imperial College London; the National Cancer Research Institute; and Microsoft Research showed, for the first time, that the immune system’s natural killer (NK) cells play a direct role in fighting HIV. This knowledge opens a new path of research into ways to beat the virus.
Scientists have long known that NK cells play an important role in the control of viral infections, mounting short-lived but highly toxic assaults on infected cells. It’s logical to expect that NK cells would play a role in the control of HIV infections, and, in fact, various in-vitro and epidemiological studies suggest that NK cells do just that. However, it remained unknown whether NK cells directly mediate anti-HIV immune pressure inside the human body.
The first tell-tale signs that NK cells were affecting HIV were found by using a sophisticated software tool that was developed at Microsoft Research. The tool used almost a CPU-year of computation to sift through millions of possible clues as to how our immune system interacts with this deadly virus.
Subsequent clinical and laboratory work that was performed by our instructional collaborators resulted in evidence that the virus mutates in response to NK cell activity—by inference, confirming that NK cells play a direct role in fighting HIV. This knowledge opens a new path of research into ways to beat the virus, helping physicians in their long-running battle with HIV and AIDS.
Multiple Microsoft .NET and Windows HPC Server-based Microsoft technologies are being used in this effort to facilitate efficient software development and computing. In addition, the knowledge gained from working with scientists on the complex computational scenarios in this project has helped Microsoft make improvement to Windows HPC Server.
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