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Member Research and Reports

UGA: Researcher Pens Primer on Simulation Modelling for Immunologists

Simulation modelling is a powerful tool for understanding how different components of a complex system interact with one another, which makes it an ideal candidate for studying the body’s front line of defense against disease – the immune system.

Yet, most immunologists, who study the immune system’s network of structures and processes, are unfamiliar with simulation modelling tools.

That’s what motivated University of Georgia College of Public Health faculty and mathematical modelling expert Dr. Andreas Handel and his two co-authors to write an introduction and review of these models for Nature Reviews Immunology.

“The idea is to introduce bench immunologists to a tool set that they probably don’t know about,” said Handel, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia College of Public Health.

Simulation models have been used in the study of infectious disease and epidemiology for over one hundred years, and much of the development of these models originated in these fields. Immunology only recently became quantitative enough for these models to work, said Dr. Handel.

The review paper covers several examples of how models have been used to study the dynamics of influenza, HIV, and other infectious diseases as well as how immunologists could deploy simulation models in their own research.

This could ultimately benefit public health.

“If they have a different set of tools, then they can potentially answer questions that they otherwise couldn’t answer,” said Dr. Handel. “If we understand more about immunology, then of course we understand more about things like treatment and vaccines and so on.”

Though Dr. Handel admits that the impact at the population level is many steps removed from the host-level work immunologists do.

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