A new Microsoft tool that was initially developed to be a complex email spam filter is now being used to further AIDS research with its data mining algorithm being used to do specific cell analysis that helps detail virus patterns.

Helping tackle some of the most urgent global challenges is firmly on the agenda for Microsoft Research (MSR) – applying our experience, our depth and breadth of expertise, our partnerships and the power of software to tackle these challenges. In the case of searching for a vaccine for HIV, all of this comes in to play as we’re applying high-powered computation, fighting HIV with data and perhaps surprisingly, using our experience of building email spam filters to find a solution.

More than 1.8 million people die of HIV-related causes each year — approximately 5,000 deaths per day. One of the great challenges in fighting HIV is that the virus is constantly mutating to avoid attack by the immune system — so much so that it can change as much within one infected person as the influenza virus has throughout recorded history. This makes it incredibly difficult to accurately analyze the virus and develop therapies that attack its elusive weak points. Each mutation means another variable to identify and understand. To complicate things even more, individual immune response varies greatly; some people’s immune systems are able to robustly combat the virus, allowing them to live for years without treatment, while others become sick more quickly as their bodies fail to resist the invasive attack.

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