Colorado State University Natural Sciences Professors Awarded $1.2 million to Study Epidemic Outbreaks

Three Colorado State University professors were recently awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Long Range Program for a project designed to speed up forecasts of how disease epidemics will spread, allowing public health workers to react to real-time data.

Department of Computer Science Associate Professor Shrideep Pallickara and Assistant Professor Sangmi Pallickara, along with Statistics Professor Jay Breidt, will be working on creating analytical tools using large complex sets of data — Big Data — to plan for epidemic outbreaks.

Computer simulations are often used to model disease spread for planning purposes. These model interactions include contacts, infections, detections, vaccine efficacy, and the impact of movement controls, such as quarantines, on disease containment. Depending on the complexity of the modeling scenario, hours or even days elapse between the outbreak simulation and access to the results. Simulations are also executed multiple times to determine the average or typical consequences of disease spread.

The proposed research uses voluminous epidemic simulation data to glean insights and knowledge to derive relationships between scenarios and outcomes. The research forecasts outcomes that rely on analytics performed on historical data. A key goal of this research is to ensure that these forecasts are highly accurate and also done in real time.

“This is an exciting, cross-disciplinary project involving three stellar faculty from our computer science and statistics departments. The work is important and cutting edge,” said Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences.