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PHDL Scientific Director Inaugural Lecturer

Dr. Saumyadipta Pyne, Scientific Director of Public Health Dynamics Lab and faculty member of Biostatistics, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, will be delivering the first Dr. Dipankar Chakraborti Memorial Lecture on 'Geostatistical Prediction Models in Public Health' at Jadavpur University, India, on March 15, 2019. Dr. Pyne was recently appointed an Honorary Adviser to India's National Institute of Medical Statistics in New Delhi.

who Picture1(Picture courtesy of World Health Organization)

In the ongoing fight against what is regarded as "the largest mass poisoning of a population in history because groundwater used for drinking has been contaminated with naturally occurring inorganic arsenic" in parts of South Asia, Dr. Dipankar Chakraborti (1943-2018) was among the foremost global leaders. Dr. Chakraborti (popularly known as Dip), a dedicated field researcher and environmental chemist, was also committed to welfare of the victims of this geogenic environmental exposure.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Chakraborti left his academic position in the U.S. to return to India to direct the School of Environmental Studies at Jadavpur University. His extensive research highlighted the severity of groundwater arsenic contamination in the Ganga River Basin (GRB), which encompasses significant geographic portions of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Tibet. His team studied several populations for dermal, neurological, reproductive, cognitive, and cancerous effects of arsenicosis.

In his last paper, Dr. Chakraborti noted, "This alarming situation resembles a ticking time bomb. We feel that after 29 years of arsenic research in the GRB, we have seen the tip of the iceberg with respect to the actual magnitude of the catastrophe."

Drug Overdose Deaths Rising Exponentially

overdose mortality rate graphicIn the September 20 issue of Science, PDHL researchers revealed a paradox in drug overdose deaths that challenges the prevailing perception of the epidemic. They revealed that the overall death rates from drug overdoses in the U.S. have been on an exponential growth curve for nearly 40 years despite all the rises and falls of deaths due to individual drugs. This trajectory began at least 15 years before the mid-1990s surge in opioid prescribing, suggesting that overdose death rates may continue along this same historical growth trajectory for years to come. When use of one drug has declined, another has moved in to fill the void. "This smooth, exponential growth pattern caught us by surprise," Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and the study's senior author, said in an interview with ABC news. After analyzing data from nearly 600,000 deaths attributed to drug overdose from the National Vital Statistics System, the researchers saw that the overdoses followed an almost perfectly exponential trajectory over the 38-year period from when the reporting first began in 1979 to 2016. The death rate due to overdoses doubled approximately every 9 years – by 2016 it was up to one death every 8 minutes.

The complexity behind the trend means that slowing or stopping the curve will require deeper changes than just cracking down on one substance or another, the authors said. "The dynamic is very complicated," stated Hawre Jalal, assistant professor of health policy and management, and lead author of the analysis, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. "It's unlikely it will respond to a specific drug or age category. It will need a much, much more comprehensive intervention."

Modeling Conference art

Fall 2018 Modeling Behavior Conference and Workshop

A Modeling Social Dynamics and Health Behavior Conference will be sponsored by The Center for Social Dynamics & Community Health, the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory (PHDL) and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at the University of Pittsburgh on Friday, October 26, 2018. This conference will bring together national leaders from across the country to discuss the integration of modeling approaches into the field of behavior and community health sciences. Through panel discussions and breakout sessions, attendees will learn about existing research, discuss associated challenges and opportunities, and chart a path forward for this emerging field. Keynote speaker will be Thomas W. Valente, PhD, Professor of Preventive Medicine, Institute for Prevention Research, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California.

A half-day Pre-Conference Behavior Modeling Workshop will be hosted at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health on Thursday, October 25, 2018. The workshop will highlight modeling using the Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED), an agent-based modeling and simulation platform.

There no is cost and registration is required for both events. Learn more, and register by October 12, 2018 at Click here to read the announcement.

Project Tycho Version 2.0

Project Tycho 2.0 has become a repository for global health data in a standardized format that is more compliant with FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) guidelines. The Project Tycho team continues to conduct research in the areas of infectious disease epidemiology and global health informatics, but also provides services to help health agencies and researchers to improve access and use of global health data.

In 2013, the first version of Project Tycho was released containing weekly case counts for 50 notifiable conditions reported by health agencies in the United States for 50 states and 1284 cities between 1888 and 2014. Over the past four years, over 3,000 users have registered to use Project Tycho data for a total of 40 creative works, including peer-reviewed research papers, visualizations, online applications, and newspaper articles.

The second version of Project Tycho has expanded its scope to a global level. The database now includes more data and is more extensively standardized. Project Tycho 2.0 includes case counts for 28 additional notifiable conditions for the US and includes data for dengue-related conditions for 100 countries between 1955 and 2010, obtained from the World Health Organization and national health agencies. Project Tycho 2.0 datasets are represented in a standard format registered with FAIRsharing (bsg-s000718) and includes standard codes to help integrate Project Tycho datasets with other datasets.

In addition to the data, the Project Tycho website ( has been updated. More features will be added in the near future for an optimal user experience.

PHDL Faculty New Head of Machine Learning at CMU

Roni RosenfeldRoni Rosenfeld, PhD, an expert in Language Technologies, Machine Learning, Computer Science and Computational Biology, has been appointed Head of the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) School of Computer Science. Dr. Rosenfeld is a faculty member of the PHDL at Pitt Public Health and an investigator for the University of Pittsburgh's MIDAS Center of Excellence. He is head of CMU's Delphi Research Group which selects high value epidemiological forecasting targets (currently Influenza and Dengue), creates baseline forecasting methods, establishes metrics for measuring and tracking forecasting accuracy, estimates the limits of forecastability for each target, and identifies new sources of data that could be helpful to the forecasting goal.

PHDL Director Speaks at Texas State Capitol

On May 2, 2018, Mark Roberts, MD, MPP, spoke to House and Senate members and staff at the Texas State Capitol as part of the Immunization Policy Series sponsored by The Texas Pediatric Society in collaboration with The Immunization Partnership and the Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. Using FRED, Dr. Roberts demonstrated what a measles outbreak would look like in various Texas legislative districts and discussed:

  • Vaccine preventable diseases making a comeback and why this is dangerous;
  • How each district could be impacted;
  • How does community immunity work and how constituents would fare in an outbreak.

Click here for more information.

 Brought to you by The Texas Pediatric Society in collaboration with The Immunization Partnership and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

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