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Mathematics modeling could aid in crisis

November - December, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 6

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Fogarty epidemiologists are at work on a long-term program to improve mathematical modeling to aid potential government responses to an infectious disease crisis.

With support from the Department of Homeland Security, the Fogarty Division of International Epidemiology and Population Studies has begun by studying animal-to-human transmission of diseases (zoonoses) and "hierarchies" of modeling systems to see which might be best under different circumstances, says senior scientific F. Ellis McKenzie.

"We want to move the state of the art forward significantly," he says, planning to have a first review paper ready in 2009 on what makes a zoonosis "good" or "bad" in terms of properties that allow it to be modeled. The other modeling track of the Research and Policy for Infectious Disease Dynamics program (RAPIDD) will help to determine what kind of data are needed to validate the structure and results of a given model, a process McKenzie describes as "one abstraction away" from actually fighting a disease.

A new concept the RAPIDD team is working on is "staging" a nascent infectious disease outbreak by categorizing its progression, much like cancer is "staged."

The premise of the program overall is that infectious-disease modeling is a vibrant and rapidly growing field, but subfields are still in their infancies, and major developments - in research, training and links with policy - will be required to control outbreaks of new threats, McKenzie says.

At full strength, the team will comprise about 50 members.

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