Center for Communicable Disease dynamics to be established at HSPH to model factors involved in infectious disease spread and intervention

For immediate release: Thursday, September 3, 2009

Boston, MA — A new center that will focus on mathematical modeling of drug resistance, seasonal infectious diseases, and intervention allocation will be established at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics will be funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS), which is aiming to increase capacity to model disease spread, evaluate different intervention strategies, and help inform public health officials and policymakers.

Marc Lipsitch, HSPH Professor of Epidemiology, will lead the center. He is a noted expert in modeling breaking infectious disease outbreaks and has been tapped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to help guide policy in the current H1N1 flu outbreak. He also helped lead the development of a model to quantify and predict the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

“Careful quantitative studies can help us prepare for and respond to newly emerging diseases like pandemic influenza or SARS, as well as improve our responses to diseases that have been with us for a while, like antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and vaccine-preventable viral infections,” said Lipsitch. “We are working on these newly emerging challenges, especially the new pandemic strain of influenza, but just as important is the ongoing development of better models and statistical methods — the basic science of infectious disease epidemiology — that put us in a better position to respond when a new challenge emerges.”

He continued: “The Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics will be a home for exciting research both basic and applied, and also for new initiatives to develop our graduate curriculum and recruit students with diverse skills to work on the analysis of models and data on infectious diseases. The Center will actively seek to interact with public health decision makers, journalists and others to improve understanding of infectious disease dynamics and develop new collaborations outside academia.”

The Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at HSPH is one of two “Centers of Excellence” and three research projects that will receive funding through the MIDAS program. The expected funding total for the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at HSPH is $15,572,000 over five years.

“The H1N1 flu pandemic has dramatically demonstrated the vital importance of identifying communicable diseases, understanding and preventing their spread, and protecting vulnerable populations to the best of our ability,” said Julio Frenk, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “This new Center will add to the country’s capacity to deal with communicable diseases and advance expertise in the field.”

Added Irene Eckstrand, who co-directs the MIDAS program at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences: “The MIDAS center at the Harvard School of Public Health will address the spread of infectious diseases in a real-world context, producing models that policymakers can use to better protect the public. The Center will also play a leading role in training the next generation of infectious disease modelers.”