iMD-VR to study COVID proteins

Excited about the publication of a recent paper showing how our open source interactive molecular dynamics in virtual reality (iMD-VR) program Narupa can be used to investigate proteins which are relevant to the ongoing COVID pandemic. In the paper, we looked at the main protease (Mpro) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is one focus of drug development efforts for COVID-19. The paper shows that iMD-VR offers a useful and effective tool for creating Mpro complexes in a physically rigorous and flexible way. Applying the iMD-VR approach to both an Mpro inhibitor and an oligopeptide substrate, we show that iMD-VR gives models in agreement with experimentally observed (crystal) structures. The docked structures were tested in MD simulations and found to be stable.

Green Tara lockdown meditation

This Green Tara was painted as a lockdown meditation during spring/summer 2020.

Tārā is a buddha manifestation embodying the qualities of feminine energy within the universe. She offers warmth, compassion, and relief from suffering. Like a mother for her children, she engenders, nourishes, and smiles at the vitality of creation. In her Green form, Tārā offers protection from the variety of unfortunate circumstances encountered by beings trapped in cyclic existence. She is characterized by wind energy, enabling her to act quickly to ease the suffering of her children.

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CHI 2020 best paper award!

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Our paper “Isness: Using Multi-Person VR to Design Peak Mystical-Type Experiences Comparable to Psychedelics” (doi:10.1145/3313831.3376649 & arxiv.2002.00940) has been recognized with a best paper award at the 2020 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing! Less than 1% of all paper submissions receive this award, so it’s really exciting!

The paper describes our efforts adapting “Narupa” (our open source VR software platform) to elicit ‘mystical-type experiences’ comparable to those reported by participants in psychedelic psychotherapy sessions. It builds on a body of work by a number of researchers, including Prof. Roland Griffiths, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research, who has investigated both naturally occurring & drug-induced ‘mystical type experiences’, and also Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris at the Imperial College Centre for Psychedelic Research, who speculated in a March 2018 paper that psychedelics combined with VR might have therapeutic benefits in a neuro-psychopharmacology context.

ERC support!

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I’m super excited to announce that the European Research Commision (ERC) has agreed to fund a project which I pitched to them called NANOVR (NANOscale design using Virtual Reality) under their ‘Consolidator Grant’ scheme. The ERC’s generous financial support will commence in summer 2020, enabling us to continue our efforts developing the Narupa VR tools as open source community resources, and carry on exploring all sorts of interesting research applications across domains like biochemistry, materials engineering, and nanoscience!