IBM Hopes Tech Will Unite Global Authorities In Battle Against Bird Flu - InformationWeek

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IBM Hopes Tech Will Unite Global Authorities In Battle Against Bird Flu

IBM and several health organizations are allying to develop technology tools to combat bird flu and other diseases.

IBM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and several other public and private health care organizations from around the globe are getting together in an effort to control the spread of avian bird flu and other deadly diseases.

Researchers working under the Global Pandemic Initiative, as the project is being called, will combine information technology and health care science as they look for better ways to identify, track, and blunt the course of infectious outbreaks. "We want to see what we can do with IT to make sure the world is ready for the next pandemic," says Joseph Jasinski, IBM's program director for health care and life sciences. IBM disclosed the project on Monday.

IBM will act as "a technology convenor" among the disparate organizations working on disease control, Jasinski says. As such, it will encourage the adoption of standards-based technologies and practices. Among other things, IBM is hoping the initiative will result in wider use of its epidemiological modeling framework, known as the Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler. It's a downloadable framework on top of which researchers and policy makers can run applications and overlay XML-compliant data, such as population densities and known bird-flu cases, from public and proprietary sources.

IBM also is opening two innovation centers that will focus exclusively on collaborative health care technologies. The centers will be located at existing IBM facilities in San Jose, Calif., and Haifa, Israel. "We'll be bringing in people with specific health care expertise," Jasinski says. He declined to specify how much IBM would invest to open the centers. Jasinski concedes that health care authorities will need more than just hi-tech if they're going to successfully head off the next pandemic--they'll need to get better at working together. That's because an outbreak of, say, the deadly H5N1 bird flu variant can only be contained if it's spotted early, and that requires the sharing of health care data on an international level. "It's early days on that front," says Jasinski.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, Scripps Research Institute, and the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh also are participating in the Global Pandemic Initiative.

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