Scientists are using mathematical models to learn how disease
travels through society, how people respond to an infectious epidemic,
and how bacteria itself can change to adapt to new conditions created
when humans alter their behavior.
Researchers from the Argonne National Laboratory
are beginning a five year study that will use agent based modeling to gain new understanding of how MRSA,
or methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, has spread in Chicago. Argonne Scientist Charles Macal
and Diane Lauderdale
, an assistant professor at the university of Chicago, received a grant from the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study
, funded by the National Institutes of Health, to track the travels of MRSA using agent based modeling (ABM).
based modeling is far more sophisticated than traditional
epidemiological models that assume every virtual person in the model
acts the same way. Complexity scholar Eric Bonabeau, who also has
expertise networks and modeling, notes agent based modeling can capture emergence.
learn about epidemics, ABM can use sociological data to create a model
neighborhood, and then assign factors such as age, ethnicity and
location to individual agents. As a result, each agent, or virtual
person, can respond in an individual way to an infectious disease
outbreak. A model can simulate virtual people and virtual bacteria
interacting in a virtual environment.
"How people move around
creates sites of contact with other people, and that changes how the
bacteria migrate through a population," Macal explained in an Argonne press release.
"We find spots where people gather: large employers, schools,
hospitals, or the county jail for example, and we sketch patterns of
movement that could spread the bacteria." The study also examines how
people react to such public health measures as screenings,
announcements, or hand hygiene washing, in order to learn which are most
effective. It also looks at how microbes can evolve.
the best things about ABM is that we can even model the bacteria itself
as an agent," Macal said. "As it travels, changes to its genome can
allow MRSA to modify its own structures and behaviors to adapt to new
conditions created by public response."
Macal and Lauderdale
will run thousands of simulations on Aergonne's computers to test impact
of varying social and environmental factors. Eventually, scientists
hope to a develop a framework model for disease transmission
that would allow researchers from any city use their own population
and disease data and get information that could help them slow