Gates Foundation Gives $1.6 Million To Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Notre Dame to Fight Malaria

Issue Date: 
May 28, 2013

Developing a system of computers and software that will help in the fight against malaria will be the focus of a $1.6 million yearlong grant given to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and the University of Notre Dame by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The network created by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center—a joint effort of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University together with Westinghouse Electric Company—will support the Vector Ecology and Control Network (VECNet), an international consortium that works toward attacking one of the worst diseases in the developing world in more effective, economical ways.

“This project is a unique effort to build a framework that will allow decision makers, researchers, and program Ralph Roskiesmanagers the chance to plan programs, develop new products, and understand how much—financially—it will take to eradicate malaria,” said Ralph Roskies, director of the supercomputing center and professor of physics and astronomy in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

While the incidence of malaria has fallen 40 percent during the last four years, the disease is far from being eradicated; even a partial success in controlling malaria could save as many as 600,000 lives in some of the hardest-hit countries. However, there are complex problems in fighting the disease, not the least of which is mathematical. For example, there are 40 or 50 dominant mosquito species that aid in its spread. High-speed and reliable computer software and programs are necessary to track and understand these species, said Roskies. Once the software and programs are in place, malaria researchers, national malaria control officials, product developers, and policy makers can contribute to solutions.

“A technological infrastructure with this level of data, modeling, and high-performance computing is unprecedented and brings public health computational modeling to a brand-new audience,” said Roskies. “For the past six years, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center has collaborated with Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, School of Medicine, and Department of Biomedical Informatics [within the School of Medicine] to create tools for making computational modeling more accessible in public-health decision making. This VECNet project is another bold step in this direction.”

VECNet representatives see multiple uses for such software. Researchers could test how a newly identified strain of insecticide resistance in malaria-carrying mosquitos is likely to spread. Or, public health officers in Senegal could determine whether a $100,000 eradication grant would be the most effective if spent on larvicides, insecticide-treated bed netting, or indoor residual spraying with insecticides.

Established in 1986, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and private industry. It is a major partner in the National Science Foundation Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment program.