How Folding@home is helping find treatments for the coronavirus

As cases of those testing positive with coronavirus continue to increase, it’s crucial that scientists have the ability to study the virus and how it can be treated. The government has pledged to make coronavirus tests widely available among essential workers and their households in the UK, with health secretary Matt Hancock wanting to reach 100,000 tests a day. With the strain the NHS is currently under, officials have warned that this number isn’t yet possible. The UK is struggling to hit 20,000 tests with a week left of the April-end goal. 

Scientists are working harder than ever to simulate the dynamics of COVID-19 proteins. We must understand the complexities of the virus to begin to develop treatments and therapeutics. These calculations require all the processing power they can get to develop treatments for the virus. This is where Folding@home comes in; we all have the ability to help scientists run protein folding at home to continue developing treatments for the coronavirus.

What is Folding@home?

Folding@home is a distributed computing project that involves citizen scientists, aka the general public, to test virus proteins on their own computers. As scientists need to gain such a vast view of how and why proteins behave the way they do, they need access to an immense amount of computing power. This processing power is used to run simulations and calculations to understand how protein structures move and interact with one another. With the information and data they produce from the tests, scientists construct detailed reports of their findings which are shared with larger scientific corporations who have the power to create therapeutics for diseases.

Folding@home existed way before the coronavirus pandemic occurred. The project has been running since 2000 and helped to test proteins of the Ebola and Zika viruses among others. Folding extends to neurological diseases and cancer including Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. In 2007, Folding at home achieved a Guinness World Record for the most powerful distributed computing network in the world. As of 2020, Folding@Home has reached a capacity of 1.5 ExaFLOPS, surpassing the world’s fastest supercomputer, IBM’s Summit. The scale at which Folding at home is running shows how much help this distributed network is doing in the fight against protein diseases.

How does Folding@home work?

Proteins are incredibly complex structures that can’t be figured out by looking at a single picture. They continuously move and interact to create different patterns and structures that determine the impact they have on the human body. Folding@home works on the basis of understanding protein folding; a process by which proteins ‘fold’ into shapes to create strong structures that determine how they act and the impact they make. Proteins exist throughout our bodies, including our blood, hair and nails, and the function they have is determined by their ‘fold’.

Viruses contain proteins too. Viral protein folds function to prevent our immune systems from fighting the virus whilst they reproduce themselves. Using protein simulations when working on the Ebola virus, the Folding@home motions uncovered potential druggable sites that were previously difficult to locate in the single snapshot other experiments were producing. Folding@home wants to do the same with the coronavirus. 

How can you get involved with Folding@home?

As you and your business’ servers, desktops and laptops might be sitting idle at home or in the office, Folding@home is a great way to make your resources useful. By downloading the Folding@home software onto your computing device, scientists can run COVID-19 protein simulations that help us better understand the virus and develop therapeutics. The software is completely free and doesn’t require any science on your part! All you have to do is volunteer your computer to join the growing distributed network across the world.

If you want to get involved in the COVID-19 simulations, please consider volunteering for Folding@home. With your additional processing power, scientists can understand how the coronavirus works so we can develop treatments and therapeutics. You can learn more about how Folding@home is helping to fight the coronavirus.