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CDC launches analytics network to predict future disease outbreaks

The predictive analytics network Insight Net aims to give public health officials a leg up on future pandemics.
By admin
Dec 11, 2023, 5:39 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced the launch of Insight Net, a new predictive analytics “network of networks” designed to help identify and respond to public health emergencies, including outbreaks of communicable diseases. 

Thirteen primary awardees, including prominent universities and health systems, will share an initial $100 million in funding – and more than $262 million over the next five years – to build out analytics capabilities, pilot disease modeling tools within communities, and scale up successful strategies to strengthen the nation’s public health defense system.  

All told, the network will consist of more than 100 public and private sector organizations across 24 states, including state health departments, tribal organizations, and academic entities. 

The network is part of the CDC’s Center for Forecasting & Outbreak Analytics (CFA), which was established in 2021 to continue monitoring the evolution of COVID while developing earlier warning capabilities for future public health situations. 

“We know that we want to keep Americans safe with using data as a superpower,” said CFA Director Dr. Dylan George to hosts of The Common Health, a podcast from the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “This is a transformative investment in public health capabilities over the next five years. We’re hoping to be able to build, test and scale up new capabilities that are using data to help us understand an outbreak and then also help people navigate their risk accordingly.”  

The baker’s dozen of primary sites will be divided into three main groups: innovators, integrators, and implementors, each of which will take on responsibility for different parts of the network’s overarching goals. 

Innovator grants were awarded to Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Emory University, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Carnegie Mellon University, and Northeastern University to support the development of analytics tools and novel modeling methods for forecasting public health events. 

For example, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University will develop new models for disease surveillance that aim to replicate the sophistication, maturity, and ubiquity of weather forecasting capabilities. Their work will focus on analyzing unique data streams that may reflect outbreak activities and using “nowcasting” to facilitate short-term forecasting that can enable public health officials to take quick actions. 

The integrator group includes University of California – San Diego, University of Utah, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan School of Public Health, and Clemson University, who will work to refine and operationalize pilots and evaluate the success of initial efforts.  

Lastly, the implementors will scale up promising models and partner with public health and government entities to fine-tune capabilities and ensure that innovative strategies become part of public health decision-making. Implementor grants were awarded to University of Texas – Austin, John Hopkins University and International Responder Systems, a training and preparedness company with several government agency clients. 

The University of Texas – Austin, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, will scale up the two-year-old COVID-19 Forecast Hub, which has been delivering weekly forecasts of hospitalizations and deaths throughout the pandemic. An additional $27.5 million in funding over five years will expand the Hub to include outbreak modeling for use by state and local jurisdictions, starting with a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health designed to enhance local decision support during outbreaks. 

“It is critically important that we are building operational capabilities,” stressed George. “This is not science for science’s sake, which is an important role, but that’s not our role. We need to actually use science in service of building these operational capabilities.”  

“[The CFA and CDC] are driven by the hope to really make a better tomorrow and try to keep people safe from infectious diseases and other health issues going forward. I’m encouraged by the team that we’ve been putting together and the colleagues that I’m working with at CDC to see that going forward.” 

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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