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U of U Health Scientists Lead Multidisciplinary Effort to Better Predict and Respond to Future Pandemics

Matthew Samore
Matthew Samore, MD, Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at U of U Health.

A multidisciplinary national research team led by University of Utah Health scientists has launched a comprehensive review and analysis of data collected about COVID-19 in hopes of improving the nation's ability to predict, detect, and respond to future pandemics.

The project is funded by a three-year, $4.9 million contract with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and co-led by Makoto Jones, MD, MS, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at U of U Health and the VA Salt Lake Health Care System, and Matthew Samore, MD, Chief of the Division of Epidemiology at U of U Health.

The contract is "part of the CDC's broader efforts to stand up a disease forecasting center to support public health decision-making and to address problems of health inequity" says Samore, who is also director of the Decision Enhancement and Analytic Sciences Center at the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.

"The uncertainty arising from questions that couldn't be answered at the beginning of the pandemic contributed to a cascade of speculation and distrust among the public and policy makers," Samore says. "We hope that by improving our ability to foresee and prepare for pandemics, we can avoid those pitfalls in the future."

Based an analysis of COVID-19 data, the scientists hope to build on lessons learned during the current pandemic to identify gaps in knowledge and to refine epidemiological estimates during subsequent pandemics. They also plan to set priorities for improving detection and surveillance of infectious diseases, such as Zika and H1N1, capable of rapid and widespread transmission.

They will use a variety of methods, such as mathematical modeling, to predict pandemic onset and outcomes. The multidisciplinary team includes experts in biostatistics, informatics, health economics, and infectious disease epidemiology. The effort is a collaboration between scientists at U of U Health, the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, the Utah Department of Health, and the University of North Carolina.

U of U Health scientists involved in the project represent the College of Pharmacy, School of Biological Sciences, and School of Medicine departments of Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and Population Health Sciences.