What factors impact the spread of viruses?

August 23, 2021

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German Research Foundation funds transdisciplinary project by researchers at the University of Bonn with 270,000 euros.

Many different factors are responsible for the spread of infectious diseases. What is known is that the spread process depends essentially on the infectiousness of the pathogen and the immune response of the host, but also on human behavior. This relates, for example, to the extent to which distance regulations are observed. Less often considered, however, is the fact that the factors and their influence can vary greatly between groups of people - both at the biomedical and socioeconomic levels. Mathematicians, physicians and economists now want to take a closer look at this so-called inter-individual variability in a joint collaboration project of the University of Bonn and the University Hospital Munich. The goal is to determine new factors that are relevant for the transmission or containment of SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding the project with several hundred thousand euros, of which 270,000 euros will go to Bonn.

In their project, the researchers want to establish a so-called systems epidemiological approach that takes into account both biomedical and economic aspects. This means that they will investigate both the inter-individual variability of the host-virus interaction in a SARS-CoV-2 infection and the decision-making processes of healthy and infected individuals in different economic and social interactions.

The coordinator of the project is biologist Dr. Christoph Geldmacher from the LMU Munich Hospital. The large-scale "Munich-KoCo19 cohort study" is also anchored there, providing the researchers with data from up to 6,000 people for their project. On the part of the University of Bonn, the project's applicants are mathematician Prof. Jan Hasenauer, who works on computational life sciences, and microeconomist Prof. Lena Janys, who works on models of decision-making. Both are active in the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics Cluster of Excellence and in the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Mathematics, Modelling and Simulation of Complex Systems" at the University of Bonn bringing their different expertise to the project. In addition, Jan Hasenauer is a member of the ImmunoSensation2 Cluster of Excellence and Lena Janys is a member of the ECONtribute Cluster of Excellence at the University of Bonn.

The comprehensive data set will be analyzed using statistical and machine learning approaches. In addition, the scientists want to develop comprehensive epidemiological-economic models that take into account the variability of individuals and their influence on decision-making. For example, do individuals stay at home or go to the office? What is the influence of their income, savings, or other preconditions? The researchers also want to consider the dynamics of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in their study. The goal is to summarize the individual scales and use them to arrive at new insights and methods that can be applied to other infections and future epidemics.

Transdisciplinary research on the rise

The project is thematically embedded in the Transdisciplinary Research Area "Mathematics, Modelling and Simulation of Complex Systems" at the University of Bonn - one of six university-wide, cross-faculty alliances with different thematic focuses. They were set up at the University of Bonn about a year and a half ago as part of the funding for excellence, because even before the Corona pandemic it became clear that no scientific discipline alone can answer major societal challenges and the complex questions associated with them.

The project now approved by the DFG is the largest third-party funding in the Transdisciplinary Research Areas to date. Numerous others are to follow, because the trend shows: More and more researchers from different disciplines are currently coming together at the University of Bonn to launch joint projects.

In addition, the project is the result of the strong collaboration between the TRA "Modelling" and the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics. The close cooperation is also reflected in other areas - among other things, researchers from both alliances come together in the joint event series "HCM meets TRA1".

Contact:  

Prof. Jan Hasenauer
University of Bonn
Email: jan.hasenauer@uni-bonn.de
Phone: +49 (0)2 28 / 73 - 6 22 26

Jun.-Prof. Lena Janys
University of Bonn
Email: ljanys@uni-bonn.de
Phone: +49 (0) 228 / 73 91 83