In the UK, Bristol University has begun to use virtual reality (VR) in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is hoped that this advancement could help researchers to develop drugs to fight COVID-19.
Bristol University researchers have demonstrated how VR can be used to visualise a brand new technique which is hoped to help develop drugs against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The technique targets the SARS-CoV-2 enzyme known as protease (Mpro). An enzyme inhibitor which targets Mpro could stop the virus reproducing, effectively bolstering any drug developed for the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem: researchers are still hard at work across the world to discover such molecules.
Professor Adrian Mulholland, the study's lead author, explained how they're using VR to help find them:
"We've shown that interactive virtual reality can model how viral proteins and inhibitors bind to the enzyme. Researchers can use this tool to help understand how the enzyme works, and also to see how potential drugs fit into the enzyme. This should help design and test new potential drug leads. We are sharing these models with the whole community."
Researchers have developed an open source software platform called Narupa, which can natively harness regular, widely available VR equipment.
Using Narupa, researchers have constructed a 3D model of the SARS-CoV-2 Mpro molecule. Using VR, they can "step inside it and visualise molecules binding to the enzyme." Virtual reality is therefore being used to manipulate the molecules and observe details only visible at the atomic level.
If you'd like to read more about the research project and the resultantly study, it can be accessed from ASC Publications here. And if you found this impressive, I can only imagine what you'll think when you step inside the wacky world of Daniel Beauchamp's wonderful VR experiments!