Using technology to fight disease

Mitacs-Accelerate intern from SFU’s IRMACS Centre develops innovative computer health care model to help prevent the spread of HIV

Bojan Ramadanovic, a postdoctoral fellow at the Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences (IRMACS) Centre at Simon Fraser University, specializes in mathematical modeling of complex social systems, including the spread of disease and delivery of healthcare. Through Mitacs-Accelerate and working under his academic supervisor, Dr. Alexander Rutherford, he partnered with pharmaceuticals company Merck Canada Inc. on a research project to develop a sophisticated model to track the spread of HIV throughout Vancouver’s downtown eastside community.  HIV has no vaccine or cure, so preventing infections and treating infected individuals is the key to limiting the spread of the disease.  Merck Canada is a major developer of antiretroviral drugs, used to treat HIV patients and improve their quality of life.

“We examined the various types of interventions being used to stop the spread of HIV.  These included an increase in testing, earlier treatment for those diagnosed, and preventing the drug use and needle sharing behavior that leads to infections.  We then created a complex computer model to track HIV through the community to determine exactly what effect each of these interventions has,” Bojan explained.

“The modeling helped determine the effectiveness of each intervention method.  By using these results, health care providers can make better informed choices on how to direct their resources, to ensure they have the best chance of minimizing instances of HIV and maximizing the efficiencies in their care plan.”

Results from the modeling have been adopted by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV for use in their treatment strategy.

Marie-Claude Meilleur from the Health Economics and Outcomes Research team at Merck Canada said Bojan brought new knowledge to the company.

“The research he did was extremely complex and at the frontier of computer model simulation in the health care sector.  We were able to learn a lot from him.  The internship with Mitacs-Accelerate allowed us to tap into cutting edge techniques from academia.  No one at Merck Canada has the level of technical expertise that Bojan has – he is a math PhD extraordinaire!”

“But at the end of the day it is all about the patient.  His research will help health care providers determine the best policies, to maximize their effectiveness and ultimately see better health outcomes.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewanand Research Manitoba.

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