Thomas Leitner will speak at Science on Tap beginning at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 15, at the UnQuarked Wine Room at 145 Central Park Square in downtown Los Alamos.
Leitner works in LANL’s Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group and has been tracking phylogenetics and epidemics. He leads a team of researchers at the Lab who are investigating the complex relationships between the spread of the HIV virus in a population (epidemiology) and the actual, rapid evolution of the virus (phylogenetics) within each patient’s body.
“We have developed novel ways of estimating epidemics dynamics such as who infected whom, and the true population incidence of infection versus mere diagnoses dates,” Leitner said. “Obviously, knowledge about these things is important for public health monitoring, decision making and intervention campaigns, and further to forensic investigations.”
The team models the uninfected population using traditional differential equations on the computer; this is done for computational speed, because an agent-based component is much more demanding.
Once a person is infected, he/she becomes an “agent” in computer modeling terms, and the model starts following their behavior individually, as well as the viral HIV evolution within the person.
This new modeling approach distinguishes between susceptible and infected individuals to capture the full infection history, including contact tracing data for infected individuals. The uninfected individuals are modeled at a population level and stratified by transmission risk and social group.
The social network in this model forms – and can change – during the simulation. Thus, the model is much more realistic than traditional models.
The advantage of this epidemiological model, Leitner said, is that “it allows us to simulate many possible outcomes of epidemics with known parameters of human interactions, where social networks form as part of the agent interactions. It is a flexible system that has the ability to describe realistic human populations.”
Science On Tap happens every third Thursday of the month, featuring a topic each week. Sponsored by the Los Alamos Creative District and hosted by the Bradbury Science Museum, this series begins each evening with an informal 10 to 15-minute lecture followed by a lively group discussion.
“On Tap” is a way for people to get out and about in the community, learn something new, and meet people with similar interests. Admission is free and open to the general public.
The Los Alamos Creative District is a program of Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation; a private, not-for-profit economic and community development organization serving the Los Alamos area since 1983. LACDC serves as the umbrella organization for the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, Los Alamos MainStreet, the Los Alamos Meeting & Visitors Bureau, Los Alamos Small Business Center and the Los Alamos Research Park.