June 22, 2024

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Professors Receive CDC Grant for Infectious Disease Predictive Modeling Project

3 min read

pandemic preparedness

Laura White and Kayoko Shioda are part of a team of researchers working to detect diseases and provide forecasts about outbreaks to hospitals and communities at large.

The continuously evolving pandemic, unusually high 2022 RSV surge, and recent cases of locally acquired malaria all underscore the unpredictability of infectious disease spread, and the strain that disease outbreaks place on the healthcare system.

Now, researchers at the School of Public Health are working to help detect and prepare the public for future outbreaks through a new innovation center led by Northeastern University (NEU).

The initiative, called “EPISTORM: The Center for Advanced Epidemic Analytics and Predictive Modeling Technology,” is a multi-institution collaboration funded by a $17.5 million, five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Laura White, professor of biostatistics, and Kayoko Shioda, assistant professor of global health, who both lead the Data Science & Surveillance research core at BU’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy & Research (CEID), are the lead collaborators from BU, which will receive $1.9M from the award.  

Headed by Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor at NEU and director of the university’s Network Science Institute, the center will also bring together researchers from the University of California San Diego, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and Ginkgo Bioworks, as well as several hospital networks. 

The researchers will tackle current challenges in epidemic modeling and analytics and develop innovative, practical, and equitable solutions to inform decision-making and policy during health emergencies.

“This CDC initiative is an exciting and important step in preparing for pandemic threats,” White says. “I am pleased to be a part of such an innovative and diverse team of scientists from across the country and look forward to working together to developing better tools and methods for detecting and responding to pandemics.”

The researchers will use wastewater surveillance, artificial intelligence, and other tools to develop forecasting models that gather data on outbreaks before they occur, to allow hospitals and communities to prepare as much as possible for the outbreaks. 

“I am beyond excited and honored to contribute to this vital initiative dedicated to enhancing outbreak response capabilities in the US,” says Shioda. “I am particularly thrilled to lead a project that aims to build a solid infrastructure and analytic framework for the real-time assessment of vaccine effectiveness and safety, using causal inference methodologies.” 

In particular, the research will emphasize disease development and spread in rural communities.

The new center is part of a larger $250 million network that advances outbreak analytics, disease modeling, and forecasting, through the CDC’s Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. 

“The goals of CEID Data Science and Surveillance Core are to develop new methodologies and networks to provide critical analysis for outbreak response,” says CEID Director Nahid Bhadelia. “This CDC grant will allow Dr. White and Dr. Shioda to accomplish those goals in partnership with collaborators and stakeholders nationally.”

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