Simfrastructure and Simdemics use massively parrallel supercomputers used to simulate the movement of every person in a large U.S. metropolitan area. They are capable of accommodating databases with hundreds of millions of people, potentially modeling how every U.S. citizen might come into contact with the virus and spread it.
"We are modeling not just the spread of disease, but the actual social environments including how people react, how they adapt, how their behaviors change and evolve," said Madhav Marathe, another NDSSL deputy director. "We are modeling the behaviors of people and how their reactions co-evolve as a disease moves through an urban region, including their social contact network, the disease dynamics and the individuals' behavior."
HHS is using the tools to calculate complicated ranges of outcomes to determine which actions can be taken to mitigate negative effects. Interventions range from wearing surgical masks to drug therapies to enforced quarantines to closing schools to canceling public events.
The Virginia Tech lab makes its tools available to the HHS and other U.S. agencies who are using them to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. The tools also predict the economic impact of serious interventions, which may be giving health officials pause in the current dim economic climate.
Flu chips in the works
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already crafted a diagnostic tool that can be run overnight in a traditional lab to test for swine flu. However, companies making flu chips are quickly gearing up to supply diagnostic tools that act faster.
STMicroelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland) is retooling its VereFlu application, in cooperation with its partner Veredus Laboratories (Singapore), to expand it beyond the seasonal strain of H1N1 flu to detect swine flu.
"Using our In-Check platform, we can test for multiple strains of the influenza," a company spokesman claimed. "Based on the sequence analysis of the H1N1 strain responsible for the current outbreak of swine flu, we are working with Veredus to specifically detect this strain, hopefully within a few weeks."
One company claims to have a flu chip ready. CombiMatrix' CMOS flu chip microarray can diagnosis swine flu in just four hours, it claims.
"We can within 24 hours customize our microarray to detect any new strains that can be identified, and we have already updated it with the latest genetic information on the latest outbreak," said Amit Kumar, CEO of CombiMatrix Corp. (Mukilteo, Wash.) "Our chip is capable of identifying swine flu as well as the seasonal flu and many other influenza strains."
The CombiMatrix flu chip costs about $300 compared to under $100 for traditional tests. But it identifies flu strains more quickly, and provides more detailed information about a particular strain than other tests, the company claims.
The Pentagon funded development of the CombiMatrix flu chip as a defense against possible pandemics. Most of its customers are research laboratories.
The CMOS chip manufactured for CombiMatrix by STMicro is a massive array of addressible electrodes similar to a memory array. It can identify most known flu strain in as little as four hours, the company asserts.