Ending Epidemics

globe, seringe, pills - ending epidemics “We want to optimize vaccine usage to eradicate disease in a given population.” – Eric Forgoston

The global eradication of infectious diseases through vaccination and quarantine programs is an increasingly pressing contemporary public health objective. Mathematical Sciences professors Lora Billings and Eric Forgoston are pursuing that goal with the help of a Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation grant from the Directorate for Engineering at the National Science Foundation.

The two professors recently received the three-year grant to support their exploration of the dynamics of stochastic (random) disease spread in metapopulations. “We’re looking to determine the conditions for the outbreak, spread and extinction of an infectious disease in randomly connected population networks,” says Billings. 

The team will develop new mathematical models that will ultimately help scientists predict the outbreak of a disease, control its spread and develop effective strategies to eradicate it.

The professors have two goals: “First, we want to study and understand the spontaneous extinction of a disease in local populations,” explains Forgoston. “Second, we want to design controls that can facilitate extinction.”

Montclair State students are assisting in this multidisciplinary research with one doctoral student and one master’s student assigned for the duration of the grant. In addition, they have applied for more funding to support two undergraduate students each summer.  “Some students will work on the mathematical analysis of disease models. Others will confirm their work with numerical results,” Forgoston says. “Student work will certainly contribute to the goal of describing how a disease can fade out in a network of populations.”

The group’s research has the potential to save lives the world over. Says Forgoston, “We want to optimize vaccine usage to eradicate disease in a given population.”