Tracking Epidemics

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2007-06-12 Print this article Print

"While we were putting this all together, we realized that this [STEM] would enable a collaborative community in the disease modeling area," Ford said. "If you ever attend a disease modeling conference, you quickly realize that there isnt a lot of collaboration between groups—they dont really share anything. This is really a reflection of the funding sources." Ford said he and his team saw an opportunity where "we could come into that kind of disorganization and provide some leadership by providing a tool that would allow people to come together and collaborate by building different parts of the models and putting them together on a common platform."
That meant it had to be open source, Ford said. Naturally, they turned to the open-source Eclipse project—which originally was created within IBM to build open-source development tools in 2001—to supply the platform.
Eclipse is now an independent, nonprofit organization, but it still has close ties to IBM; many of its active members are IBM employees. A basic epidemiological model framework will be provided to software developers, who can customize and configure the models based on their specific requirements. These models, which involve multiple populations and interactions between diseases, can help public health experts develop more effective preparedness plans. Click here to read how a Google philanthropist wants to promote the use of search technology to disseminate information that will help stop the spread of disease. "Potentially, you might have public policy decisions made based on information provided by STEM," analyst Louie told eWEEK. "You might run multiple different kinds of scenarios in parallel with STEM, and each scenario might be some slightly different view [of the problem]. "An example would be the hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak among cows in the UK in 2000," Louie said. "Like a million or so cows were killed, costing about $12 billion. ... When a report of an infected cow came in, they would go and kill every cow within a certain radius of that farm. The problem is: Whats the right radius? Should it be 3 kilometers, 5 kilometers ... should it be something else? There are a lot of consequences in these things." If you make the radius too big, then you kill too many cows and affect tourism, Louie said. If you make it too small, you might not be able to contain the disease, he said. "Its really a situational awareness-and-response system that weve released to the community," Louie said. The person most likely to use this software would be a programmer working with a disease control or other public health office at the state or federal level, Louie said. IBMs donation is also intended to help facilitate collaboration between governments, scientific researchers and other players in the public health community, Ford said. Users will have the ability to share the customized epidemiological models that they create in addition to the plug-ins they build using Eclipse, he added. STEM is one of the key technologies being utilized in the Global Pandemic Initiative, a collaborative effort formed by IBM and more than 20 major worldwide public health institutions to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The tool is also compatible with the standards-based interoperable health care infrastructure developed by IBM and can query clinics, hospitals, lab systems and other information sources for anonymized data by disease, which enables a complete picture of the health of a population with real-time data. To download STEM free of charge, go here (134MB file). Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on health care.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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