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Northeastern University granted $17.5 million by CDC to become infectious disease detection, prep center

Northeastern University in Boston has been granted $17.5 million by the CDC to launch an infectious disease center and prepare communities for outbreaks.

Northeastern University in Boston will be given $17.5 million by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lead an innovation center focused on infectious disease detection and preparation, the university announced.

The Center for Advanced Epidemic Analytics and Predictive Modeling Technology, or EPISTORM, will "help detect and prepare the United States for the next outbreak of infectious disease, especially in rural areas," according to the university's Northeastern Global News (NGN).

The funds will be used to coordinate the work of various consortium members across the U.S. to prepare local communities for outbreaks, including RSV and the seasonal flu.

"If we can tell (hospitals) even one or two weeks in advance that the numbers will go up, that they have to make room for two or three more emergency or ICU beds, that could make a difference," Northeastern professor Alessandro Vespignani told NGN. 

"We want to be in a place where there is a National Weather Service for epidemics and epidemic threats." 

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The EPISTORM center will lead a group of universities, health care organization and private companies in the research. Neighboring Boston University, as well as Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of California at San Diego are the educational institutions in the consortium.

Other group members include Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Concentric Ginkgo Bioworks, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists are also represented in the group.

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The center will be using tools like AI, machine learning and wastewater surveillance to "help the U.S. make more informed decisions during future outbreaks of infectious diseases."

"It will be the place where there will be monitoring, forecasting and scenario analysis for the country about all possible threats," Vespignani said.

"To be an actor in this national endeavor is something that galvanizes all of us," he added. "We are creating a system for the future. It has never happened for infectious disease. It is not happening at this level elsewhere in the world."

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