IBM Unleashes Software Tool For Thwarting Pandemics

Can model the spread of disease much like modeling a hurricane

IBM researchers on June 8 released free software to help public health officials prevent pandemics of diseases such as bird flu or dengue fever. IBM's Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM) is a tool for public health scientists worldwide to forecast how diseases will spread .

"STEM will allow public health officials to model the spread of a disease much like modeling a storm or hurricane," said IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences engineer Joseph Jasinski. "It allows us to produce a public health 'weather map' for the spread of a particular disease. Until now, it has been difficult to simulate health crisis scenarios on a global scale. STEM gives us the power to do that."

IBM's open-source software is available to scientists, researchers and public health protectors worldwide through the nonprofit Eclipse Foundation, according to lead STEM researcher Dan Ford. The software is a refinement of software IBM released three years ago. IBM said researchers from its Israel, China and U.S. labs have been working on the project for nearly three years.

The program provides base information, such as road maps and macro-economics, and allows public health officials to "tweak" it with local details such as air traffic patterns. Information available from anywhere in the world can be added to customize programs that forecast how particular diseases will likely spread in local regions, Ford said. "You might have someone that is an expert in the mathematics of disease propagation and another person with useful data like migratory bird paths," Ford said."This tool lets them put their expertise together and share it."

"This isn't going to predict the future. What it will do is give insight into where choke points might be and the magnitude of decisions. To a researcher, this is a big boost."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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