Title: Operation Outbreak: an app-based platform for infectious disease education and research

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Abstract: Together with Harvard University Professor Pardis Sabeti and Dr. Todd Brown from The Inspire Project, we have been working since 2015 on Operation Outbreak (OO). This project was originally motivated by the ever-present pandemic threat (at the time, made apparent by the West African Ebola outbreak) and the challenge of educating students about it in more engaging ways. Only five years later, COVID-19 reified epidemiologists’ predictions of a global pandemic caused by an emerging pathogen. As public health measures contributed to curbing the spread of COVID-19, innovative educational programs on infectious diseases could also play a role in controlling this pandemic––and in preparing for or preempting the next one. OO started as a mock outbreak activity for middle schoolers using stickers to mimic pathogen transmission, and eventually evolved to comprise three interconnected components: (1) an academic curriculum and textbook on pathogen biology, epidemiology, public health, political decision-making, and science communication during health emergencies; (2) an outbreak simulation experiential learning activity that synthesizes curricular content with a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone app; and (3) a multi-user dashboard that visualizes data generated during the outbreak simulation for informed reflection and skill development in epidemiology and quantitative data analysis. Facilitated by the smartphone app, the outbreak simulation spreads a virtual pathogen across participants’ phones via Bluetooth. Additionally, the simulation incorporates a series of role-playing activities for the students (e.g., governance, research, healthcare), taking place during the simulated outbreak and mirroring a real-world epidemic. The current OO app supports Bluetooth beacons and QR codes that simulate infectious sources and protective items (e.g., face masks and hazmat suits) and interventions such as testing and vaccinations, and we have been making substantial progress last year in the development of the app technology and conducting several large-scale pilots in middle and high schools, as well as colleges. Currently, my lab in the Program of Bioinformatics and Integrative Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School is focused not only on developing the technology behind OO, but also using OO as a “real-life” simulator that could help create and validate epidemiological models to better respond to future outbreaks.

About AI4PAN Artificial Intelligence for Pandemics Seminar Series centred at UQ

Welcome to AI4PAN, the Artificial Intelligence for Pandemics group centered at The University of Queensland (UQ). The group's focus is the application of data science, machine learning, statistical learning, applied mathematics, computation, and other "artificial intelligence" techniques for managing pandemics both at the epidemic and clinical level.