Ph.D., 1979, MIT
Tamara Awerbuch is a health scientist and biomathematician whose main interests focus on bio-social interactions that cause disease. For the last decade she has been conducting research on the conditions that lead to the emergence, maintenance, and spread of epidemics. Her research encompasses sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, as well as vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Lyme disease. Recently, she also did work on the spread and control of rabies based on an eco-historical analysis. Her work is interdisciplinary and her publications are co-authored with members of different departments at HSPH.
The conditions leading to the emergence of epidemics are complex in nature, depending on many biological, ecological, behavioral, environmental, and socio-economic factors. In most of her research she uses mathematical models that link the various factors involved, into systems that lend themselves to qualitative and quantitative analysis. These models can be used to explore the effect of each factor in the presence of the others as well as new interventions. Many of these models are based on data collected in the field, whether they deal with zoonotic diseases such as the population dynamics of the tick that transmits Lyme disease in the Northeastern part of the US, or sexually transmitted diseases such as the relative infection probabilities of HIV1 and HIV2 in a cohort of prostitutes in Senegal.
The mathematical analysis of some of her models led to fundamental epidemiological results, for example, that oscillations are an intrinsic property of tick dynamics. This means that a decrease in tick abundance in one year does not necessary imply that the same will happen in the next. She presented her work in many international conferences and at the Isaac Newton Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, England where she was invited to participate in the Program on Models of Epidemics.
She is a founding member of the New and Resurgent Disease Group. Within this context she was involved in organizing a conference in Woods’ Hole on the emergence and resurgence of diseases, where she led the workshop on Mathematical Modeling. In addition she established international collaborations such as with Israeli scientists on emerging infectious diseases in the Middle East, with Cuban scientists on infectious diseases of plants and the development of general methodologies, with Brazilian scientists on the development of concepts to guide effective surveillance.
She is currently a co-investigator in the project:”Why New and Resurgent Diseases Caught Public Health by Surprise and a Strategy to Prevent This,” supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
She co- chairs the committee on Bio- and Public Health Mathematics. Some of her research papers were the result of collaboration with students through the course Mathematical Models in Biology which has large portions dedicated to infectious diseases. She is indeed interested in Public Health education and developed educational software for adolescents based on models for determining the probability that an individual will become infected with HIV given certain sexual behaviors. These models also help us explore the changes in sexual behavior that will reduce the probability of contracting HIV.