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The DIMACS/MBI US-African
Biomathematics Initiative


WHAT IS the US-African Biomathematics Initiative?

The US-African Biomathematics Initiative a pioneering project aimed at identifying key biomathematical challenges arising from problems of Africa, creating long-lasting partnerships between US and African mathematical scientists, and training junior researchers to work in the field of biomathematics. Most of the project's activities will take place in Africa, providing direct access to African researchers and uniquely African data to US researchers, and introducing US students to African students, creating long-term partnerships and long-term commitment to international collaborations for US students.

The project is run by DIMACS at Rutgers University in collaboration with the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at Ohio State University (MBI), the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), and the South African Centre Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis (SACEMA). DIMACS is recognized as a world leader in research and education in bioinformatics, computational biology, and mathematical epidemiology; MBI is an acknowledged leader in fostering innovation in the development and application of mathematical, statistical, and computational methods for the solution of significant problems in the biosciences; AIMS has quickly established itself as an educational center to promote and implement new policies, and set priorities on science, technology, and innovation for African development; SACEMA is recognized as a national research center established under the Centre of Excellence Program of the South African Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation. The project also collaborates with MITACS, AIMI-Net, ASBM, AMMSI.

Specifics of the Program 

Initiative Overview

The continent of Africa faces numerous socio-economic and public health challenges, including newly emerging or rapidly changing diseases; quickly changing ecological systems resulting from climate change; exploitation of natural resources; the need or desire to conserve disappearing ecosystems and wildlife; the challenge of resource management in the context of limited resources; changing agricultural practices and their impact on human health; and the effect of health events and changing climate and ecology on social structures, economic systems, and political stability. Research and training in biomathematics can lead to substantial inroads in addressing these challenges. Addressing them is of importance not only to Africa but also to the rest of the world, including the US. Diseases know no national boundaries. Economic upheavals in one part of the world affect the economy of the rest of the world. Political or social changes in one part of the world can quickly spread to other parts.

The problems of Africa present particularly exciting and complex challenges for mathematical scientists. To allow US scientists to best help tackle these challenges, which range from issues of mathematical modeling to issues of data analysis and interpretation, partnerships are needed between US and African mathematical scientists so that US scientists can get first-hand understanding of the problems of Africa and the data they need to parameterize and refine their models. Many of these challenges fall at the interface between the mathematical and biological sciences. Dealing with these challenges requires a large number of researchers trained in biomathematics and prepared to deal with specific biomathematics challenges arising from problems of Africa. Thus, it is important to train the next generation of US mathematical scientists to work in biomathematics and in international venues with international collaborations.


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The Goals of the Initiative

The goals of the DIMACS/MBI US-African Biomathematics Initiative will be achieved through workshops and "advanced study institutes" for graduate students, both held in Africa, follow-up research projects, and extended visits to the US by African students and faculty. These goals are:

 

  • Stimulate new joint research initiatives between US and African scientists.
  • Develop biomathematics, linking existing know-how to the international research arena, with specific emphasis on the benefits to the development of the mathematical sciences in the US.
  • Educate the next generation of US biomathematicians in partnership with the next generation of African biomathematicians for the workforce of the future.
  • Expose US researchers and students to real African problems and introduce these researchers and students to people who can provide data and insight to make their models more realistic and useful.
  • Identify and solve specific problems of Africa with implications for the US and the rest of the world.


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Modeling Data Clinic

Because successful model development should never be divorced from data but sometimes is, a biomathematics modeling clinic with a data analysis emphasis is planned. It will go beyond simple mathematical modeling of epidemiological problems that has often ended after the abstract solution to some differential equations and an analysis of conditions under which a disease outbreak can be controlled, to the development of tools and methods for connecting models to real data. Researchers and graduate students interested in attending the clinic will be encouraged to attend the conference as a source of relevant data sets and possible research projects.

    Dates: May 11 - 19, 2009

    Location: AIMS, Muizenberg, South Africa

    Organizers: Steve Bellan, UC Berkeley; Wim Delva, Ghent University; Jonathan Dushoff, McMaster; Avner Friedman, Ohio State University; Marty Golubitsky, MBI; John Hargrove, SACEMA; Travis Porco, University of California-San Francisco; Juliet Pulliam, NIH; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; Brian Williams, WHO-retired

    Participants will be a select group of US and African graduate students and researchers with some background in epidemiological modeling, with the organizers acting as facilitators of the clinic. The organizers will guide participants through the process using one or more data sets and then the participants will apply similar techniques to a handful of data sets. While the organizers will be prepared with their own analyses of the data sets, it is hoped and expected that the process will be open-ended and interactive and that the participants' models will not exactly match the organizers' expectations.

    Dates: May 24 - June 4, 2010

    Location: AIMS, Muizenberg, South Africa

    Organizers: Steve Bellan, UC Berkeley; Wim Delva, Ghent University; Jonathan Dushoff, McMaster; Avner Friedman, Ohio State University; Marty Golubitsky, MBI; John Hargrove, SACEMA; Travis Porco, University of California-San Francisco; Juliet Pulliam, NIH; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; Brian Williams, WHO-retired

    Participants will be a select group of US and African graduate students and researchers with some background in epidemiological modeling. The organizers will act as facilitators of the clinic. Organizers will focus on techniques for linking models and data through a series of interactive lectures and computer tutorials; gradually moving participants from canned exercises to independent exploration of novel research ideas. As with the previous clinic, the process is expected to be open-ended and interactive. Organizers will be prepared with their own analysis of data sets; however, it is expected that participants' models will not exactly match the organizers' expectations.

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    Advanced Study Institutes and Workshops

    The DIMACS/MBI US-African Biomathematics Initiative features three workshops focusing on challenges arising from Africa whose solution requires serious mathematical components:  (1) conservation biology and creation of ecological reserves and related issues of risk of extinction and risk of invasive species; (2) economic aspects of epidemiology;  and (3) the use of genetics to control diseases of humans and crops. These are research workshops, with biomathematicians and others from both the US and Africa presenting current relevant work. Each workshop will include sessions aimed at identifying research topics for follow-up research collaborations. The first two workshops will be preceded by a graduate student Advanced Study Institute (ASI), modeled after the highly successful DIMACS June 2007 ASI on infectious disease modeling, and aimed at preparing students to participate in the workshop, follow-up research projects, and long-term international collaborations. Based on requests received from student participants in our first ASI in South Africa, funds for small research projects catalyzed by the ASIs and workshops will be set aside, provided students are heavily involved and there is joint US-African participation.

    • Advanced Study Institute and Workshop on Economic Epidemiology
    • Dates: July 20 - 31, 2009
      Location: Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda
      Organizers: Nina Fefferman, Rutgers; Alison Galvani, Yale University; Wayne Getz, UC Berkeley; Abba Gumel, U. of Manitoba; Ramanan Laxminarayan, Resources for the Future; Simon Levin, Princeton University; Joseph Mugisha, Makerere University; Fred Roberts, Rutgers; and Dave Smith, University of Florida. The ASI will be organized by Alison Galvani, Yale University and Jan Medlock, Clemson University.

      An inter-disciplinary workshop will bring together mathematicians, economists, epidemiologists, biologists, operations researchers, and others to focus on research challenges in the rapidly-developing field of Economic Epidemiology. A 2-week ASI will include the basics of dynamical systems, equilibrium and equilibrium stability; basic tenets of population dynamics and epidemiology; ways to think about human incentives and model human behavior; the role that information about disease plays in determining human behavior; the benefits of surveillance; and methods of calculating and minimizing costs in dynamical systems.
      Funding Opportunity for Economic Epidemiology ASI/Workshop Student Participants

       

    • Workshop on Economic Epidemiology

      Dates: August 3 - 5, 2009
      Location: Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda
      Organizers: Nina Fefferman, Rutgers; Abba Gumel, U. of Manitoba; Ramanan Laxminarayan, Resources for the Future; Joseph Mugisha, Makerere University; Dave Smith, NIH. The ASI will be organized by Maciej Boni, Resources for the Future.
      Funding Opportunity for Economic Epidemiology ASI/Workshop Student Participants
       

    • Advanced Study Institute and Workshop on Conservation Biology
    • Dates: July 28 - August 10, 2010
      Location: Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa
      Organizers: Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University; Wayne Getz, UC Berkeley; Edward Lungu, U. of Botswana; Wandera Ogana, University of Nairobi; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; Sadie Ryan, University of California, Santa Barbara; and George Wittemyer, Colorado State.

      We are in the midst of one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, 56 million years after the "Fifth Extinction" at the end of the Cretaceous Period. The difference this time compared to the previous five is that the cause is anthropogenic. Through over-harvesting and overgrazing, deforestation, land conversion to agriculture and urban uses, and other activities, we have created the first global biodiversity crisis since the emergence of modern humans to million years ago. In response, ecological research has turned increasingly towards addressing the issues of biological invasions, habitat destruction, species persistence, reserve design, climate and global change, and emerging plant and animal disease - some of the topics that constitute the young discipline of conservation biology and the subject of this workshop and Advanced Study Institute (ASI).

    • Workshop on Conservation Biology
    • Dates: August 11 - 13, 2010
      Location: Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa
      Organizers: Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University; Wayne Getz, (Program Chair); Edward Lungu, U. of Botswana; Wandera Ogana, University of Nairobi; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; Sadie Ryan, University of California, Santa Barbara; George Wittemyer, Colorado State.

    • Advanced Study Institute on Conservation Biology Part II
    • Dates: January 10 - 15, 2011
      Location: Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute, Naivasha, Kenya
      Organizers: Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University; Wandera Ogana, University of Nairobi; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; Sadie Ryan, University of California, Santa Barbara; James Osundwa, UN Environment Programme, Kenya

    • Workshop on Genetics and Disease Control
    • Dates: August 8 - 12, 2011
      Location: Elmina, Ghana
      Organizers: Gyan Bhanot, Rutgers, Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Institute for Advanced Study; Nina Fefferman, Rutgers University; Avner Friedman, Ohio State University; Marty Golubitsky, MBI - Ohio State; Jamie Lloyd-Smith, UCLA; Raul Rabadan, Columbia University; Fred Roberts, DIMACS; and Abdul-Aziz Yakubu, Howard University.

     

    Using genetic engineering as a defense against the spread of disease vectors has both great potential for successful control of these diseases in humans, animals, and plants and great risk. In general, understanding how genetic modifications will affect the control of a disease involves the complex interplay of many factors in our epidemiological models. These include the interplay of climate, ecology, human population densities, infectivity, and life cycle. Genetic modifications present particular hope for the control of endemic diseases in Africa where individual medical attention is not readily available, so that population-level interventions, on a multi-national scale, may provide the greatest possible health benefits. Many of the issues in determining the potential risks and benefits from these genetic engineering strategies can be addressed by asking sophisticated questions in the mathematical sciences. These questions, which are the subject of this workshop and ASI, are often of particular significance when addressing uniquely African problems. This workshop will bring together geneticists, statisticians, epidemiological modelers, mathematicians, and others to focus on current problems in genetics and disease control.

    • Workshop in Quantitative Landscape Ecology and Environmental Sustainability
    • Dates: Workshop July 3 - 7, 2012 (with optional pre-meeting July 1 - 2, 2012 and optional field trip July 7 - 11, 2012 )
      Location: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
      Organizers: Barend Erasmus, University of the Witwatersrand; Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University, Virginia; Wayne Getz, UC Berkeley; Marty Golubitsky, Mathematical Biosciences Institute - Ohio State University; Victoria Goodall, SAEON, Cape Town, South Africa; Kesh Govinder, UKZN; Fred Roberts, Rutgers University; and Sadie Ryan, SUNY Syracuse

     

    The application of mathematical methods to questions involving large scale ecological systems is called landscape ecology when the topography of the ecological system is taken into account. This is a rapidly developing field that relies on remote sensing to collect all types of ecological and population level data. It has critical applications in general ecology and conservation biology, particularly with a focus on sustainability of ecosystem services and issues relating to global climate change.


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    Visiting Researcher Programs

    To enhance African biomathematics and its interactions with US biomathematics, both DIMACS and MBI plan to host two African graduate students per year for year-long visits. This will also expose the US graduate student and postdoctoral biomathematicians at DIMACS and MBI to the problems of Africa in a longer, more extended mode than is possible with a two-week Advanced Study Institute. African faculty will also come as visitors to engage in joint research projects. Previous experience suggests that visiting students and faculty will become leaders in future US-African biomathematics initiatives.

    • Program of Visits to DIMACS and MBI by African Graduate Students: Africa-US Student Research Initiative (ASRI)

    To enhance African biomathematics and its interaction with United States biomathematics, some African students will be provided with an educational opportunity that extends beyond the Advanced Study Institutes. In some cases, the students could be faculty withour a doctorate. In 2009 and 2010 DIMACS and MBI hosted up to two African graduate students for year-long visits each year. In 2011 DIMACS will host several African graduate students for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or year-long visits. Hosting African students will also expose US student and postdoc biomathematicians at DIMACS and MBI to the problems of Africa in a more extended mode than is possible in an ASI. The African graduate student visitors will be chosen through an application process overseen by the project Organizing Committee. Information on the Africa-US Student Research Initiative (ASRI) and how to apply can be found at:

    http://dimacs.rutgers.edu/Workshops/ASRI.

    • Program of Visits to DIMACS and MBI by African Faculty

    Visits by African faculty to DIMACS and MBI can also help catalyze joint activities as well as assist African biomathematicians play a leadership role in this African-US partnership. Because year-long visits are infeasible for most faculty, invitations to African faculty will concentrate on visits of a few weeks to a month, enough time to immerse faculty in joint research projects. When appropriate, these visits will be scheduled around DIMACS/MBI workshops. The possibility exists to extend these visits if a faculty member from Africa would like to spend a longer period visiting DIMACS or MBI.


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    DIMACS would like to thank the National Science Foundation for their support of the US-Africa Biomathematics Initiative.   It would also like to thank the collaborators for their financial and other support.

     

    DIMACS is a NJ Department of Education Professional Development Provider.

     

    If you have specific questions about the content of the program, please e-mail Gene Fiorini (gfiorini at dimacs.rutgers.edu).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

Last modified: May 2, 2012.