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Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Teams Up To Quash Malaria

The World Health Organization reports that more than 600,000 people die of malaria every year around the world.

In order to help combat that, a local supercomputing center is partnering with the University of Notre Dame and James Cook University in Australia.

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) and Notre Dame have received up to $1.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a system of computers and software for the Vector Ecology and Control Network (VECNet), an international consortium to eliminate malaria. The new project will support VECNet’s effort to combine research with industrial and public policy efforts to more effectively attack malaria.

According to PSC Senior Science Writer Ken Chiacchia, this project has been something that VECNet and the Gates Foundation have wanted to do for a while. But the challenge is to develop a computer system that anyone with a professional interest in public health could learn to use without much training.  

“And it is my understanding that there were a number of proposals that didn’t go anywhere, and it was this particular collaboration between us and Notre Dame that really convinced them that this was a doable project and it was time to do it,” Chiacchia said.

The intent of the computer system is that all malaria researchers, national malaria control officials, product developers and policy makers can contribute to solutions.

Chiacchia compared it to a weather report. For example, a hurricane is coming and people need to evacuate to save their lives.

“And that’s what we’re aspiring to hear, is to develop a system that actually predicts what’s going to happen with malaria deaths and morbidity if people do different things to try to help it," Chiacchia said. "Or for that matter for example, if a mosquito develops a resistance gene to an insecticide, how is that going to affect it and what do we have to do to circle back and counter it.”

The yearlong contract grant from the Gates Foundation will take the project from the idea stage to beginning to teach malaria experts how to make use of it.