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Swapping a Microscope for Math

Swapping a Microscope for Math


Of course mathematics plays a crucial role in medicine: All manner of treatments rely on a practitioner's knowledge of ratios, proportions, and probabilities. Now complex computer-driven mathematics models are helping researchers determine how to make HIV drugs even more effective and less costly. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Princeton universities are employing intricate mathematical theories to discover the best possible ways to medicate people with HIV, minimizing human trials, dosage sizes, and frequency while maximizing effectiveness. By developing a method that combines concepts from optimization theory (a field of math that calculates the best option among a number of choices) with those of computational biology (a field that examines theoretical and experimental questions in biology), scientists can get much closer to determining the most beneficial'and least costly'medications to attack the virus. Using this model, researchers were able to predict the effectiveness of drugs against the virus. Fuzeon, an injection-based drug often given to HIVers who are resistant to first-line medications, can cost up to $20,000 annually for one person. However, the scientists used their computations to find a more effective way to synthesize the drug, making it more aggressive toward only the parts of the virus that need to be penetrated. The structure of their version of the drug is also more compact, less prone to erosion, and longer-lasting in the body. HIVers can take less of the drug and less frequently. 'One could never test all the possible peptides [amino acid chains] to see if they are effective against HIV,' Princeton professor Christodoulos Floudas says. 'But this model was able to sort through millions of possibilities and identify just a few that show promise.'

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