Microsoft Anti-Spam Tech to Fight HIV

Microsoft Researchers have found another use for the anti-spam technology that keeps inboxes junk-free: developing vaccines for HIV.

With the same software techniques traditionally used to analyze databases and track spam, medical researchers can find hidden patterns in millions of HIV strains and create improved vaccine designs. The genetic patterns are necessary to train a patient's immune system to fight the deadly virus.

Microsoft scientists David Heckerman and Nebojsa Jojic were the first to pioneer the medical uses of anti-spam software. They have joined up with doctors and scientists from the University of Washington and Australia's Royal Perth Hospital to build more potent vaccines based on the data gathered by Microsoft's technologies.

"Science is changing rapidly with the explosion of new data, and we've only scratched the surface of what computers can do to help advance this kind of research," said David Heckerman, senior researcher and manager of the Research Machine Learning and Applied Statistics Group at Microsoft.

Although it seems like science fiction, Microsoft says the work is already showing potential. Vaccine designs aided by Microsoft Research are currently undergoing laboratory testing at the University of Washington. Tests at Royal Perth Hospital will follow, with initial results expected later this year.

"These Microsoft Research technologies weren't initially conceived as medical research tools, but they may prove to be critical to the ongoing battle to slow down or halt HIV and other deadly viruses," said Dr. James Mullins, professor in the UW Department of Microbiology.

Researchers also plan to use the techniques to analyze HIV strains from around the world and gain a better understanding of the virus and its mutations. Microsoft says the vaccine models could also aid in the treatment of other mutating viruses such as hepatitis C.

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