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Computer Simulation Captures Immune Response to Flu

Monday, May 18, 2009

Researchers have successfully tested for the first time a computer simulation of major portions of the body's immune reaction to influenza type A, with implications for treatment design and preparation ahead of future pandemics, according to work accepted for publication, and posted online, by the Journal of Virology. The new "global" flu model is built out of preexisting, smaller-scale models that capture in mathematical equations millions of simulated interactions between virtual immune cells and viruses.

A team of immunologists, mathematical modelers, statisticians and software developers created the new model over three years within the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The project was led by Hulin Wu, Ph.D., principal investigator of the project, director of the Center for Biodefense Immune Modeling (CBIM) and division chief of the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, and by Martin S. Zand, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the CBIM. The work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

"High-speed, accurate computer simulation tools are urgently needed to dissect the relative importance of each attribute of viral strains in their ability to cause disease, and the contribution of each part of the immune system in a successful counterattack," said Zand. "Real world experiments simply cannot be executed fast enough to investigate so many complex surprises, and we must keep pace with viral evolution to reduce loss of life."

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