New Algorithm for Disease Simulation

Researchers from WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have engineered a novel computer algorithm which can determine regions where vaccines should be dispensed to increase immunization.

This algorithm makes use of computer-simulated populations to determine the possibility of a disease being contracted by direct contact with an infected person, Anantharaman Kalyanaraman, WSU’s Boeing Centennial Chair in Computer Science.

The researchers make use of computer software to simulate an infection’s spread within a population. Kalyanaraman said the software also simulates contact with people, which allows the algorithm to determine how far the disease can spread. The algorithm identifies the group of people to be vaccinated in order to prevent further spread.

The researchers used high-performance supercomputers to increase the amount of scenarios to simulate. Increase of the speed allows for more scenarios to be tested in a shorter duration.

Kalyanaraman said that the original purpose of the algorithm was to observe how information spreads through social networks and how to maximize exposure to adverts.

How information spreads on social media is a bit similar to how disease is contracted through direct contact. ‘It occurred to us that if one algorithm is able to maximize the influence spread on a social network, it should be able to minimize an infection spread by vaccinating’, he said.

A fourth-year Computer Science graduate student, Marco Minutoli said Kalyanaraman and his team were researching an algorithm for advertising whose main focus is spreading information to as many people as possible on social media. The team then modified the purpose of the algorithm so it could restrict the spread of disease instead.

Kalyanaraman said that the team is some factors into the calculations of the algorithm like the income or healthcare of a person.

‘We don’t want the algorithm to make random determinations, which would ultimately lead to disadvantaging some people or communities’, he said.

Minutoli said that that the current algorithm model cannot be applied to the ongoing pandemic because the research team do not have the required data. They need to know how COVID-19 is contracted so a model for how it spreads can be created.

‘Once the data after the [pandemic] is collected and colleagues have studied how the virus spreads, we can work on a version of the algorithm that supports our needs for [COVID-19]’, Minutoli said.

Kalyanaraman stated that currently, the algorithm can only be used in simulations. He also reiterated his confidence that there will be an updated algorithm which may be applied to real-life scenarios within the coming year.

‘This research is an iterative process,’ he said. ‘We start somewhere, we find new directions to work and then we expand on those next steps’.

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: The Daily Evergreen