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Microsoft Releases Software To Help Fight AIDS

The applications can help researchers sift through mountains of data around complex immune and viral genetic information gathered from populations of infected individuals.
Microsoft on Wednesday released to the scientific community the source code for a group of software applications designed to help scientists carry out AIDS research.

Among other things, the applications can help researchers sift through mountains of data around complex immune and viral genetic information gathered from populations of infected individuals.

The goal: to pinpoint key strings of amino acids -- known as epitopes -- that must be present in a vaccine for it to be effective.

One of the tools, called PhyloD, incorporates evolutionary trees into its analysis of patterns, and is helping researchers determine the effectiveness of the human cellular immune system against the AIDS-causing HIV virus.

With the source code in hand, researchers can modify the applications to suit their specific needs.

Another of the applications, the Epitope Prediction Tool, uses a machine-learning method drawn from Microsoft's spam filtering technology to scan proteins for likely epitopes in people with any HLA (human leukocyte antigen) type.

A third program and related source code that Microsoft is making available, called an HLA assignment tool, aims to help find epitopes more accurately. A fourth, HLA Completion, is designed to help scientists research HLA types more economically.

Among the research institutions using the tools is the University of Washington's Department of Microbiology. Dr. James Mullins, a professor in the department, said the marriage of biological research methods and IT technologies should help fight AIDS and the virus that causes it.

"The medical research tools developed by Microsoft prove that we can make more progress in the battle against HIV when experts in various fields pool their resources," said Mullins, in a statement.

Microsoft is also making full, online versions of the applications available on its Web site.