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School and Program Updates

Michigan Researchers Collaborate on Infectious Disease Warning Tool

What if public health officials had an early warning system that could help in preparation for — and possible prevention of — infectious disease outbreaks?

That’s what Michigan SPH professor of epidemiology Dr. Pejman Rohani and mechanical engineering professor Dr. Bogdan Epureanu are working to achieve. As part of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study team, Rohani and Epureanu are part of a coordinated network of scientists studying infectious disease dynamics using computer modeling techniques. While each scientist leads an individual project, their collective work will be used to inform ways the public health community can prepare for and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Led by Dr. John Drake, an associate professor in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, the team — including collaborators from the Odum School and College of Veterinary Medicine and Pennsylvania State University — will use a five-year, $3.18 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to develop mathematical models to predict when the conditions are favorable for an outbreak to occur, known as a “tipping point.” While a system is vulnerable to collapse after a tipping point is reached, signals — such as those being identified by the team — can warn public health officials that a crisis is imminent.

The team has “previously identified patterns in data as biological systems approach a tipping point,” said Dr. Irene Eckstrand, National Institute of General Medical Sciences scientific officer for the MIDAS program. “With their new grant, they will use their expertise to search for these patterns in outbreak data, potentially providing new forecasting tools.”

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