Containing Ebola

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If a pandemic threatens or a natural disaster puts populations at risk, chances are that Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Eva Lee will be called in.

An applied mathematician and modeling innovator, Lee has traveled to hot spots around the world as an advisor in response to public health catastrophes, and has long partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on medical preparedness and emergency response.

“I am intrigued by the multi-faceted challenges and the need for innovation, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside public health leaders, says Lee, a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, acknowledged as one of the nation’s go-to experts in the area of rapid response medical crises.

For example, she recently presented her work (in disease containment strategies) at Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – a prestigious slot in the AAAS speakers’ lineup for a second straight year. Almost concurrently, she was awarded a $200,000 RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a collaborative project focused on the containment of Ebola in the event of another outbreak.

Lee and her research colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Junhong Chen, have been approved for their research proposal entitled, “Rapid Detection & Outbreak Systems Modeling for Containment and Casualty Mitigation in Ebola.”

Preventing an Epidemic

They believe the containment of Ebola in West Africa is fundamental to preventing a global epidemic. Their initial aim is to adapt and advance a computational modeling tool that Lee invented for real time support, which helps in determining strategies and optimizing scarce resources for rapid disease containment.

“This is a comprehensive modeling system to help us predict what can happen and plan accordingly. It’s very exciting,” says Lee, professor in the Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Healthcare. “This will help determine how to get the greatest benefit to the population. It’s a powerful tool. We can incorporate virus characteristics, on-the-ground resources and workflow operations, dynamic human and social behavior, and disease spread into a single system framework.”

Lee is tailoring the system for the Ebola response effort in West Africa, and also for CDC public health preparedness in the United States. The first aim of the RAPID grant is to empower public health and emergency policy makers with the most advanced tools for effective casualty mitigation and risk management. The high-risk populations identified from this first aim will be fed into the next phase of the project for rapid and early detection, as Lee’s proposed system has real-time capability for live data-feed and allows on-the-fly reconfiguration.

The second aim is supporting Chen’s design of a sensor that can be used to immediately detect the Ebola virus with a simple spit test. This low-cost virus sensor will be adapted from technology Chen’s already developed (a sensor platform he created for water contamination detection).

Primary Presenter

The RAPID grant from NSF for pandemic rapid response is just the latest highlight in a fresh flurry of related activity for Lee. Recently, she was appointed to the 13-member National Preparedness and Response Science Board (NPRSB), the federal committee that provides advice and guidance to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And in mid February, she returned as one of the primary presenters at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.

Last year her presentation focused on how to get vaccines or other medical countermeasures rapidly to citizens, to contain the pandemic (setting up dispensing locations, real-time tracking of disease spread, tracking citizen movement, etc.). This year she focused on limited resources (like vaccines, beds, healthcare workers) and how policy makers need to make strategic decisions to distribute vaccines, or usage of resources to minimize the overall mortality and infectivity.

“This was a great example about the ways in which our scientific studies have led to public health policy changes, such as CDC training on mass dispensing, and understanding the tradeoffs of medical triage during emergency declaration,” she says. “These are extremely impactful to our nation’s population health protection.”


Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience



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