February 15, 2020
Disease outbreak control: Harnessing the power of multiple models to work smarter, not harder
Presented by Katriona Shea
Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences and Professor of Ecology
Disease outbreaks are a source of immense human, wildlife, and agricultural concern. They threaten our health, our environment, and our food security. When new outbreaks such as Ebola occur, scientists rush to help. Even so, often relatively little may be known about a disease, even as policy makers must make critical decisions about how to best to manage it. Quantitative models that describe biological processes in terms of mathematics or statistics can be incredibly helpful in such cases. They allow us to summarize what we do know while highlighting where our important knowledge gaps lie. Shea will overview the use of mathematical modeling approaches in disease settings, drawing examples from human, wildlife, livestock, and agricultural scenarios. She will also discuss important general insights that have arisen from modeling efforts, including cautionary tales, the importance of context, and ways to streamline decision-making when time is of the essence.
Katriona Shea uses and develops ecological theory to understand and manage invasive and outbreaking species. An in-depth ecological understanding is essential for successful management, and this research focus allows Shea to ask important ecological questions for species of special concern. Her research focuses on population management and uses a variety of approaches, including quantitative theoretical studies of real systems, purely theoretical studies that inform practical approaches, and empirical work. She has worked in a wide range of applied settings, including conservation, harvesting, weed and pest control, as well as in epidemiology. Finding common issues and patterns in disparate systems means that she need not start from scratch with every new problem that arises, but rather can build on previous learning. Dr. Shea was educated at the University of Oxford and at Imperial College, London and held postdoctoral positions in California and Australia before joining the faculty at Penn State in 2001. Dr. Shea is an elected Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.