BLACKSBURG, Va., November 4, 2013 -- Caitlin Rivers, a doctoral student in the Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology program, has been awarded the Department of Defense’s Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation grant to continue her studies in computational epidemiology.

Caitlin Rivers

The grant provides recipients with full tuition and fees, a significant stipend, paid internships, mentoring, and assured job placement after graduation. Rivers will work for the Army Public Health Command after graduation.

“This grant has been vital in helping to jumpstart my career,” said Rivers. “It’s given me access to other scientists and allowed me to continue in epidemiology research in emerging infectious disease.”

Rivers is currently at work on a study about Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS, a deadly new virus which sprang up in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Little is known about the virus, though its closest relative can be found in bats. While it’s known that the disease can be transmitted between humans through sneezing or coughing, camels are suspected to also be a source of the disease. Rivers has found that MERS has likely spilled over from animals into the human population numerous times, and she and other scientists are trying to understand how this will affect disease transmission in the future.

One of the ways Rivers and her colleagues attempt to predict how a virus will spread is through agent-based modeling. These models combine locations, people and activities to form a detailed picture of a synthetic society. In the case of the MERS model, there are even synthetic camels! The hope is that through the interaction of all the various systems, scientists will be able to understand how a disease moves through a population and therefore how best to stop it.

“Caitlin is at the forefront of studying emerging infectious diseases using new methods that take into account the crucial role of human and animal behavior. It’s gratifying that the Department of Defense has recognized her accomplishments and potential with this highly competitive grant,” said Stephen Eubank, deputy director of the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at the institute.

About Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

Established in 2000, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is one of seven acclaimed research institutes designed to support Virginia Tech’s research mission. Our emphasis on informatics of complex interacting systems scales from the microbiome to the entire globe, helping to solve challenges posed to human health, security, and sustainability. Headquartered on the Blacksburg, Virginia campus, the institute occupies 154,600 square feet in research facilities, including state-of-the-art core laboratory and high performance computing facilities, as well as research offices in the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, Virginia.


Tiffany Trent

November 04, 2013