CDC funds UI computational epidemiology researchers in fight against COVID-19

Faculty, staff, and students from four colleges collaborate on fighting hospital-borne transmission of COVID-19, E. coli, staph, and other dangerous pathogens
Friday, October 2, 2020

iconsHospitals should be a place of refuge for people in need of medical care. However, more than two million patients each year contract hospital-borne infections such as Clostridium difficile, E Coli., and now COVID-19.

A multidisciplinary group of University of Iowa researchers is studying how to protect hospital patients from these types of diseases, with funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The project involves faculty, students, and staff from four University of Iowa colleges—computer scientists, physicians, epidemiologists, and biostatisticians.

The researchers comprise the University of Iowa Computational Epidemiology Research Group—commonly known as CompEpi—which recently received a $3.3 million grant from the CDC to continue tracking the spread of healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs. One of six centers in the CDC’s Modeling Infectious Diseases in the Healthcare Network, the UI group uses computational modeling and simulation to study HAI transmission in relation to hospital layout and hospital-based interventions.

With funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Iowa Computational Epidemiology Research Group is helping hospital patients, workers, and visitors stay safe from COVID-19 and other diseases.

Researchers from four UI colleges collaborate on the advanced computer-modeling research, bringing together computer scientists, biostatisticians, physicians, and epidemiologists. 

“The overarching theme of this project is to overcome existing barriers for modeling the spread of HAIs,” said Alberto Maria Segre, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and the Gerard P. Weeg Faculty Scholar in Informatics. “Simulations based on our models can be used to compare alternative interventions and provide effective and practical guidance for how to reduce the transmission of multidrug resistance organisms and other pathogens capable of causing HAIs.”

Multidrug-resistant organisms, including HAIs such as C. diff and Staphylococcus aureus, are resistant to antibiotics and pose a great risk for exposed patients. Segre and the UI CompEpi group use a fine-grained spatiotemporal modeling approach to evaluate the efficacy of potential HAI countermeasures.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CompEpi group has also received two supplemental grants from the CDC. These grants, which total $850,000, will allow CompEpi to apply similar modeling techniques to COVID-19 transmission in healthcare facilities as part of a larger consortium of CDC-funded modeling centers.

Since the UI CompEpi group’s founding in 2009, collaborators have studied contact network epidemiology, healthcare-worker movement-tracking technology, technology-based hand-hygiene compliance monitoring, infection control, and disease monitoring. They’ve previously received funding from the CDC and the NIH.

—By Grace Culbertson

Faculty members of the University of Iowa Computational Epidemiology Research Group include:

Alberto Segre, University of IowaProfessor Alberto Maria Segre (Department of Computer Science, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; co-founder)



Philip Polgreen, University of IowaProfessor Philip Polgreen (Department of Internal Medicine, Carver College of Medicine; Department of  Epidemiology, College of Public Health; co-founder)



Bijaya Adhikari, University of IowaAssistant Professor Bijaya Adhikari (Department of Computer Science)




Octav Chipara, University of IowaAssociate Professor Octav Chipara (Department of Computer Science)




James Cremer, University of IowaProfessor James F. Cremer (Department of Computer Science)




Tim Herman, University of IowaProfessor Emeritus Ted Herman (Department of Computer Science)




Aaron Miller, University of IowaAssistant Professor Aaron Miller (Department of Epidemiology




Sriram Pemmaraju, University of IowaProfessor Sriram Pemmaraju (Department of Computer Science)




Linnea Polgreen, University of IowaAssociate Professor Linnea Polgreen (Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, College of Pharmacy)




Daniel Sewell, University of IowaAssistant Professor Daniel Sewell (Department of Biostatistics, College of Public Health)




Jacob Simmering, University of IowaAssistant Professor Jacob Simmering (Department of Internal Medicine)



The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.