- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Scientists at Rutgers are playing a role in the search for a cure for the Zika virus, and they’re seeking the public’s help.

Alex Perryman, a research teaching specialist at Rutgers’ New Jersey Medical School, and Joel Freundlich, associate professor of pharmacology and physiology and medicine, are part of a supercomputing project that screens current drugs and millions of drug-like compounds against models of Zika protein structures.

The results will be shared with the research community and the general public. The compounds that show the most promise will then be tested in laboratory settings.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes and sexual contact and can cause severe birth defects. More than 500 cases have been detected in the continental U.S., all linked to overseas travel.

IBM is sponsoring the project using its World Community Grid. The grid aids scientists by harnessing the unused computing power of volunteers’ computers and Android devices.

Anyone with an Internet-connected computer or Android smartphone or tablet can download an app that runs the program while their computer is idle. When the computer’s CPU is in use, the app disengages, Freundlich said.

Instead of taking years, Perryman said, “We will perform these initial tests in a matter of months, just by using idle computing power that would otherwise go to waste.”

Perryman, a co-principal investigator of the project, said researchers will be able to evaluate six million different compounds available commercially or approved in the U.S. and Europe.

“Everyone wants to contribute,” Freundlich said. “Everyone reads about the Zika virus. We’re just looking at ways we can contribute.”

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