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New App Lets Users Design COVID-19 Treatments

Dr. Thanh Truong

Researchers at The University of Utah created a new smartphone app that allows users to design new drugs to fight against COVID-19.

“So I tried adding a few things here and modifying the chemical structure and it improves. It’s alright, but it's not so good. The other guys are using the app, look at it, and hey, I can do better and they optimize it significantly! And it’s becoming kind of a game for a number of people,” said Dr. Thanh Truong, a chemistry professor at The U.

Truong and his colleagues at the Institute for Computational Science and Technology in Vietnam recently designed ViDok, a new app that challenges users to design better drug molecules to fight the novel coronavirus.

Just as if Truong had opened his chemistry lab to the public, ViDok uses the same tools real scientists use, in the form of a smartphone app. It’s not common to open drug design to the public, but Truong said there’s a benefit to involving the public in this research.

“The experiments they are doing is the same thing is as the research scientists are doing. And that is kind of leverage on everybody’s intelligence, not just a couple, you know, graduate students in my office," Truong said.

Because users have already designed new molecules, scientists can skip the slow and costly design phase and focus on tweaking these molecules to create viable drugs.

“Okay, this molecule, I can modify a little bit so I can synthesize it faster," he said. "Or I can make it cheaper. But the fact is that somebody has designed this molecule with this kind of potency already. I might lose 10% of potency, but I can make a really darn good and fast drug. So actually some researchers have already contacted me and said 'can I really use the results for actual research?' I said, ‘Oh, please do!’” 

 ViDok is free on the iOS App Store and Google Play.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.