The disease is sepsis, a blood infection that turns deadly when a patient goes into septic shock as the body tries to fight an infection. Troops often go into septic shock after suffering a massive trauma like losing a leg to a road side bomb.
Leaders of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, want to fight that disease and have challenged the game and online community at Foldit, a website funded by DARPA, to help cure it.
DARPA has asked the Foldit community to tinker with protein designs in a massive brainstorming session to design new proteins to attack the ones that cause sepsis. The hope is to design "protein-based pathogen capture reagents to be used for the removal of circulating pathogens patients’ blood as part of a larger [dialysis-like therapeutic] system," according to DARPA.
The Pentagon had success with this approach in January when the Foldit online community of more than 240,000 gamers helped scientists remodel a reaction in organic synthesis. Had scientists had toiled over the protein design for years. Foldit users helped them solve it in three weeks.