FAHcon 2012: Prof. Dr. Peter Kasson

Here's a guest post from Prof. Dr. Peter Kasson (University of Virginia).

FahCon2012 was quite an exciting conference.  We shared some of our work relating both to new methodology and to our mixed computational & experimental work on influenza.  We also enjoyed hearing about many important developments from other FAH researchers.

 Why do we study influenza?  First, influenza kills about 40,000 people each year in the US alone and many more worldwide.  These are mostly children under 2 and adults over 60, but all of us who hope to live past 60 and have children we care about find this a matter of some concern.  Second, influenza has a proven track record of causing global mass-mortality events, such as 1918.  A similar virus today might easily kill in the range of 60 million people, and we’d like to be prepared.  Third, influenza is an important model system for understanding other viruses such as HIV and cancer-causing viruses such as HPV, Heptatitis C virus, and Epstein-Barr virus.  It may come as a surprise, but many cancers are virus-associated, and these form an important area for prevention.

We have done a lot of work on how influenza gets into cells to replicate in the first place.  This is an important therapeutic target, and it’s also critical for understanding why viruses like H5N1 “bird flu” have not become efficiently transmissible between people.  Some of our new work looks at the protein folding in the membrane required for viral entry.  We have some exciting new results that we’ll blog about as soon as they’re published.

We also presented new developments on a software package that we’re very excited about:  Copernicus.  The Kasson, Lindahl, and Pande groups published a paper on Copernicus at SC11 last year, and the Kasson and Lindahl groups have been continuing development extensively.  Copernicus essentially makes the back-end control of large-scale simulations much more transparent, so FAH researchers will be more easily able to integrate new methods.  It also runs on supercomputers and cloud-computing platforms, so we can use these in addition to FAH, and non-FAH researchers can perform the same style of computation that we do on FAH.  Since these changes are all on the server side, FAH donors shouldn’t notice a difference, but we’re excited about the new science that Copernicus can enable.