April 13, 2017: GSS Systems Science Center’s Chick Macal, Jonathan Ozik, and Nick Collier were awarded the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary’s Appreciation Award as members of Argonne National Laboratory’s Ebola Task Force Team.
Signed by former DOE Secretary Ernest J. Moniz in January, this cabinet-level award recognizes the team’s contribution: “For answering the President’s call for an ‘all hands on deck’ response to the Ebola virus global health emergency through providing people and expertise, supporting efforts in the field, working with the inter-agency and industry, and using the best of the best of our science and technology powerhouse.”
A second Award was presented to the Argonne team comprised of Tom Brettin, Rick Stevens and Ravi Madduri who worked on the “Cancer Moonshot”, Vice President Joe Biden’s initiative. Jonathan and Nick are also working with the Cancer Moonshot Award recipients as part of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer Project and the Exascale Computing Project (ECP) CANcer Distributed Learning Environment (CANDLE) project.
Creation of the Ebola Task Force
Beginning in March 2014, the West African nations Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia experienced the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. By the time the seriousness of the outbreak was fully recognized in the fall of the same year, tens of thousands of people were dying and there was no end in sight.
The U.S. government got involved in October 2014, a month after individuals exposed to Ebola began entering the country. President Obama launched an ‘all hands on deck’ for all agencies to respond to the threat. Secretary Moniz created a DOE Task Force, leveraging the capabilities of the national laboratories to respond in a variety of areas.
Argonne Gets Involved
At this time, Computing, Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) Associate Lab Director Rick Stevens tapped Chick, Nick and Jonathan because of their work on an NIH-funded project modeling a Chicago outbreak of community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) infection. The idea was that Argonne’s team would work collaboratively with other labs, and that the infectious disease model currently developed for CA-MSRA could be adapted to model Ebola.
Argonne Director Peter Littlewood approved lab funding for the project adapting the CA-MSRA model, with the now generalized moniker chiSIM, to model a potential outbreak of the Ebola virus.
As Chicago was identified as one of five U.S. cities likely to be entry points for individuals carrying the virus, the Argonne team worked with the University of Chicago from late October 2014 to January 2015, to understand the Chicago healthcare network, and to assess any preparations currently in place. After January 2015 vaccines appeared to affect a downturn in the Ebola infection rate, thanks in part to many U.S. Federal Agencies focusing efforts on the problem. Other DOE labs were also involved in the Task Force. For example, DOE labs sent teams to West Africa with the goal to improve the speed of Ebola diagnosis, and to plan the logistics of treatment centers. For the Argonne team’s efforts in modeling Ebola, the chiSIM model became one of the DOE projects highlighted at the White House in response to the Presidents’ call.
Argonne’s chiSIM Model
Policy makers and researchers agree: it’s not a question of if, it’s a matter of when the next infectious disease outbreak occurs. As it has evolved, chiSIM can now be applied to modeling the flu, many other transmissible diseases, and even information flow within a large urban community. It is a computer model of people going about their daily routines in Chicago, meeting and interacting in different places that have been organized into different activity types relevant for the particular problem of interest. Recently profiled in Chicago media for its Halloween modeling of a zombie invasion, the chiSIM team more regularly focuses on preparedness in the healthcare system and society in general.
Chick Macal says “I greatly appreciate the DOE engaging Argonne and recognizing our contributions to help avert a national crisis. I am proud of our team’s dedication to the mission and what we were able to accomplish.”
Photo, at top, from left to right:
Joanna M. Livengood,
Dmitri Kusnezov, not shown: Nick Collier