The Mathematical Biology group takes a collaborative approach to investigates the underlying processes affecting viral diseases of livestock. By better understanding these processes we can properly plan for the control of any disease. We combine state-of-the-art statistical and mathematical modelling techniques with observational and experimental studies to investigate the dynamics of infection at scales ranging from the cell to the population. Our models encompass both systems biology approaches and large-scale simulations and our research complements current field and experimental work taking place at the Institute, identifying the key mechanisms that drive infection.
We focus on several internationally important diseases, including bluetongue and foot-and-mouth disease. Our two key questions are :
- How can we make predictions about the spread and control of a disease in the presence of uncertainty? For example, where data are sparse, as may be the case for an emerging infection or where information on the spatial location of hosts is limited.
- How do processes at one level of biological organisation relate to those at another? For example, how do within-host viral dynamics relate to transmission between animals and how does transmission between animals (i.e. within a farm) relate to transmission between farms?
Multi-scale modelling of viral diseases of livestock: The aim of this project is to develop mathematical models for the dynamics of viral diseases of livestock at a range of scales, incorporating statistical approaches that allow robust inferences to be drawn about underlying biological processes.
Multi-scale inference of foot-and-mouth disease spread in the UK and Japan: We aim to develop more realistic models for the transmission of foot-and-mouth disease within and between farms, integrating the latest data on foot-and-mouth-disease virus (FMDV) transmission. The model is being applied to outbreaks in the UK in 2001 and in Japan in 2010.
A major impact of our work is in advice on disease spread and control to various national and international organisations. This is best exemplified by our work on bluetongue virus (BTV) during the epidemic in northern Europe in 2006-2009. During the epidemic the group developed mathematical models to describe the potential spread and control of BTV in Great Britain, which were used to advise Defra and Scottish Government. The value of this work was recognised by the award of the BBSRC Social Innovator of the Year 2013, jointly with Peter Mertens, Carrie Batten and Simon Carpenter. More recently, Simon Gubbins has been a member of working groups on Schmallenberg virus, sheep and goat pox, lumpy skin disease and peste des petits ruminants (PPR) for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
In addition to their use in providing policy advice, the models for the spread and control of BTV were used as part of the registration process for Intervet's Bovilis® BTV8 vaccine. In particular, they were used to show that the vaccine is likely to reduce virus transmission to an extent that can limit the spread of an outbreak in a vaccinated population of cattle.
The work of the group on modelling disease spread was highlighted at a stand at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition in 2008 entitled "Are epidemics inevitable?" Jointly with the University of Cambridge and Rothamsted Research, we showed how mathematical models could be used to understand and control epidemics of animal and plant diseases. Related to this, together with the Bioinformatics group, the group hosts A-level mathematics students from Woking College to talk about the work we do and how maths can be applied to real-world problems.