Monday, March 7, 2016

Treating HIV Like Spam

David Heckerman is a Microsoft Research scientist as well as a medical doctor who has found similarities between HIV mutations and spam. In the late 1990's, Heckerman created the spam filter by using machine filtering. At first, the filter worked by filtering spam from other emails by finding specific words. Spammers then caught on to this and started ti manipulate the messages to look the same to the human, but different to the computers. Heckerman then changed the filter so that it filtered out emails that were meant to collect money.

The researcher began to find interest in finding the treatment for HIV. He stated, "Spammers mutate their spam messages to work around our filters, and HIV mutates itself to avoid attack by our immune
system." Based on this analogy, Heckerman and his team used machine learning to find weak links in mutated HIV. Their first approach was finding out where the immune systems of people who were infected by HIV, but not extremely ill were attacking HIV. They compared the location of this attack to people who were infected and very sick. The researchers did find some differences in the location of the attacks between the controlled and non-controlled. The other method was to simulate the physical properties of the protein after mutation and see which mutations destabilized the proteins. The results for the 2 methods were quite similar. 

Heckerman and his team have a new and unique approach to treating HIV. Heckerman's next step is to find a safe and effective vaccine that will attack vulnerable regions instead of attacking at random. This research could lead to a breakthrough in treating a virus that kills 1.8 million people yearly. Being able to relate his research on spam to HIV will hopefully have a significant impact on many people's lives.

1 comment:

  1. I always find it interesting when people use common terms to describe more complicated processes. Similar to using "coding", "saving" and "retrieval", which are also computer-related words, to describe human memory, comparing HIV to spam offers a comparison to help make a complicated concept easier for people without a science background. Even better, this analogy is helping to opening new doors to research on the development of drugs that will aid in the control of this difficult retrovirus.