Source: Business Week: 2007-10-01: print edition. pp.68, 70
David Heckerman (Google), a physician as well as a PhD in computer science at Microsoft Research, was doing research on better spam-blocking when he noted that those same technology can be applied to blocking HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.
From Heckerman’s perspective, HIV is like a cagey spammer. After attacking a cell, it injects its own genetic material and proceeds (much like a spam jockey who has commandeered as an unprotected computer) to manufacture thousands of copies of the virus.
The trouble? Complexity and mutations. HIV-infected cells often wear mutated nameplates that immune systems haven’t learned to read. In this sense, vaccines have been like faulty spam filters, the ones that block e-mails promoting “Viagra” while letter ads for “V1agra” scoot through.
But Heckerman is upbeat. He argues that by revving up the computing power and blending thousands of new variable, researchers are making progress. One key, he says, is to map the patterns of mutation and incorporate them into medicine. These mutations, he says, appear to vary according to a person’s immune system. If researchers can find the patterns, they’ll be closer to making effective vaccines. Yet if they conclude that the mutations are utterly random, then “we’re in big trouble,” says Heckerman.
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