Sonicules: Designing Drugs with Sound

The key to the design of a new anticancer drug is the careful engineering of its 3D shape to ensure optimal docking between the drug and target-enzyme.Together with multidisciplinary team we are investigating whether using 3D sound and visuals will allow scientists to design effective anticancer drugs quickly and more efficiently.

Sonicules is a immersive audio-visual live performance and interactive installation, which engages audiences with the process and challenges involved in the design of new anticancer drugs. It centres on project team’s research in investigating the potential use of spatial sound to speed up the drug design process. The performance takes its creative impetus from interactions between biochemical data, interactive immersive surround sound and audio reactive visualisations based on 3D molecular models. Additionally, audience members can experience for themselves the powerful potential of sound to speed up the design of new drugs using a specially developed interactive installation with 3D graphics and sound.

To effectively design of new anticancer drugs we have to target specific biomolecules by carefully engineering the 3-D shape of new drug molecule to reach the optimal docking between a drug and target-enzyme.  Currently chemists and biochemists can  ‘tune’ this energetic interaction purely with the aid of visual software.  The process is imperfect,  slow and often misses some of the principal electronic interactions. However, recent research shows that auditory display – displaying data as sound – has potential alongside visual representations to improve the efficiency and speed of this aspect of drug design. We’ve built  a Sonicules computer game that allows the public to engage with the drug design process.  It allows people of all ages to understand more about the complexities of designing new drugs and how researchers are using 3-D sound to aid chemical engineers meet these challenges.

Project was supported by Wellcome Trust (UK) and Centre of Chronic Diseases and Disorders. Premiered at Festival of Ideas, York, UK and subsequently showcased throughout Europe at festivals such as Stockholm Tech Fest 2017 (Sweden) where opened the festival after invitation and support from Polska Institutet Stockholm and Polish Embassy Stockholm. It was presented on scientific conferences such as IX Symposium of Society of Polish Bioinformatics (Poland) and is featured in the book Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience (Rudnicki, Brereton, 2018). Piece was substantially updated over the years (2016-2018) in terms of sound design, visual design and audiovisual interaction. Further grants included Copernicus Science Centre and Samsung (Poland), as well as Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand, that provided funding for travel allowing showcasing the piece internationally on seminars and symposia.

Project team:

Radek Rudnicki – Sound design, composition and performance
Jakub Hader – Visual design
Jude Brereton – Spatial sound, scientific advice
Andrew Chadwick – Game audio programming
Alasdair Munday – Game audio programming
Paul Walton – Chemistry, scientific advice
Darren Reed – Sociology, Interaction Advisor
Christopher Power – Computer Science, HCI analysis
Brian Katz – External Advisor