Grenfell part of team to receive $10 million from Gates Foundation

September 24, 2008

University Park, Pa. — A team of scientists, including Penn State Alumni Chair in the Biological Sciences Bryan Grenfell, has won a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to evaluate the potential of vaccines to control deadly infectious-disease outbreaks worldwide. The grant will fund the creation of computer simulations of epidemics — showing worst-case and best-case outbreak scenarios — and will be used to evaluate new vaccine technologies and modes of vaccine delivery. 

"We plan to explore methods for deploying existing and novel vaccines that maximize the abilities of the vaccines to reduce the spread of infections and diseases," said Grenfell. The ultimate goal of the project is to guide public-health experts worldwide in making decisions about vaccine strategies that have the greatest chance of success.

Initially, the project will focus on the evaluation of new vaccine technologies for influenza, measles and dengue fever, which affect millions of people globally. Later, the scientists will develop models that predict how vaccines will impact epidemics of pertussis, a bacterium that causes whooping cough, rotavirus, polio, pneumococcus, malaria and tuberculosis. Grenfell, in particular, will focus first on the epidemiology and control of measles in sub-Saharan Africa using data from his previous work on measles dynamics and vaccination strategies in Niger.

The scientists will use high-performance computers to quickly perform complex calculations that simulate outbreak scenarios based on the size of a population in a particular region or country, the distribution of certain diseases, the likelihood that diseases will spread, and how different vaccine strategies can impact the spread of diseases. The investigators also plan to use computer simulations to evaluate potential new vaccines that do not require refrigeration and that can be delivered through the skin without conventional needles.

"Many infectious diseases are preventable by simple vaccination, yet children in poor countries die of these diseases because they lack access to vaccines," said Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health and a leader on the project. "By providing computer models to aid in decision-making, we will support efforts to make vaccines safer and easier to administer, and ultimately to protect more children and adults against deadly infectious diseases."

The project is a joint initiative by scientists at Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, the Imperial College of London, Johns Hopkins University, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Médecins Sans Frontières Epicentre in France, the University of Georgia, Resources for the Future and the World Health Organization.

Last Updated March 19, 2009