Friday, June 29, 2007

Preparing my summer trip

This summer I will travel to the US and attend to three conferences: Transvision 2007 in Chicago, the World Future Society annual meeting in Minneapolis and the Science Foo Camp in Mountain View, California. I will speak about OS Biomedical Research in a student meeting associated to TV07, as it seems I am too young and unexperienced to be allowed on the main conference. Anyway, I will try to spread the meme and make more visible the problems that we have here dealing with diseases very well known but that have no cure, because they are not profitable for the industry.

In the WFS meeting I won't deliver any presentation, but I hope to discuss some of my work with the Millennium Project with the MP staff that will be there.

In Mountain View I will be at the famous Googleplex for the Science Foo Camp, new kind of conference, where there is no previous schedule, the contents are determined by the interaction of people. I hope to talk there about my current work at the MP, the importance of future studies, proper science education and skepticism, but also about OS Biomedical Research and the current efforts going in that way like The Synaptic Leap and current research done at my lab, testing the efficiency of already modelled compunds against Chagas' Disease. It would be a lot of fun, and I will try to learn as much as I can.

Here is my abstract on OS Biomedical Research:

Open Source Biomedical Research and Computational Biology can improve drug design and help to fight neglected diseases.


Several hundred millions of people around the world are affected by neglected diseases. One of the challenges they encounter is that the development of treatments for these diseases is not profitable for the private sector, as most of the affected are among the poorest people in the world. These diseases tend to attack people in tropical regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas, often in a chronic way, disabling people for years and causing further poverty and decay, in a downward spiral. Until now, the process of developing new drugs has been cumbersome and expensive, yielding many ineffective or highly toxic products, due to an approach based on random testing of substances.

Now, with new methods in computational chemistry, it is possible to design new drugs in rational way that targets specific parts of a given virus, bacteria or parasite, while it bypasses the equivalent parts in humans. This approach might save a great amount of time and resources previously wasted on useless compounds or on effective compounds against useless targets, which, in turn, could reduce the cost of drug development. However, even with these new tools, most commercial partners are still not interested in developing drugs for poor markets.

A possible solution to this problem is the application of the “Open Source” approach to drug development. The Open Source (OS) approach in software has shown it is possible to create useful, reliable and efficient products through a voluntary, collaborative process. In biology the OS approach could be used for collaborative non-profit research, aiming to avoid the duplication of efforts and the release of patent-free compounds for neglected diseases in a relatively short period of time, thanks to the new computational methods and distributed efforts; moreover, as these methods become increasingly efficient and the available information about pathogens grows (regarding genomes, expression patterns, etc.), a OS collaboration could make the process of drug development even cheaper and more efficient, and even allow for the creation of "backup drugs" to tackle the problem of drug resistance before it appears.

Keywords : Systems Biology, Open Source Biomedical Research, Neglected Diseases.

I am really surprised I got invited to Scifoo, given the extremely high level of the attendees and that I still (yes, shame on me, but I chose to take computational physics too) am an undergrad. But this is a perfect example fof the reasons I created this blog: In this age you don't have to be wealthy or live in the developed world to help to develop new things, to be in contact, to get opportunities like this. Even ten years ago this would have been impossible even in my wildest dreams. This, my readers, is a praise to globalization. I only am sad that many people smart enough to get opportunities like this is lacking a proper education. I dream of the day that is corrected and we, all mankind, can use our brains and hands to solve our current problems.

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val said...

This open source biomedical research sounds a bit like weird to me, I've never thought about it but It sounds quite interesting.

Anyway, could It be a problem in the free market context? The industry won't be very happy with it, I'm sure about it. lol.

Guido said...

I am glad you find it interesting, Val.

No, it should not be a problem on the free market context. We won't compete against the industry, because the industry does not care about these diseases, and I doubt that they will care as soon the bearers of the disease are as poor as they are now. Probably other people will try to apply the OS approach to more conventional diseases and the compete against the industry, but stil the production of the drugs is still pretty much a monopoly of the industry or the government, and if the government is not interested,as will be in the developed countires, the drugs then will have to be made by the industry, but hopefully at lower prices. The pharmaceutical industry from underdeveloped countries is a key ally to all this.

So, as drugs are not software, the industry still has part in this play. They might or not accept it inmediately, but changes will happen wether they like it or not.

Mat Todd said...

Enjoy Scifoo Guido - I wish I could be there, but all my teaching happens at this time of year. Should be very interesting.

Al said...

To have something that gives the industry a lack of incommings, even in the third world is going to be fight, I think. Nevertheless, I think is a splendid idea this OS applied to the biomedical research.

You're quite a smart, and most important visionary person, so I get not amussued for this assitance of yours to the conferences.

I hope this come to happend and you have the time share and learn as much as you can.

I'm Very happy for you.

Keep writing and sharing all this ideas, I read with most enthusiasm