IITM Alumni helping in the fight against COVID-19
With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, our alumni have contributed generously in many ways to both efforts in the US and in India. We have raised more than $20,000 both at a national and chapter level in relief funds, and helped purchase of critically needed PPE supplies to hospitals in the New York/New Jersey area. There is one more reason for us to proud of our alma-mater.
We have several alumni actively involved in leadership roles in the R&D and Manufacture of critical medical technology for COVID-19. Below are two such profiles - Dr. Madhav Marathe, Rekha Ranganathan and Rajesh Sunderasan.
Bio: Madhav Marathe has extensive experience in modeling and studying infectious diseases. His group has supported almost every outbreak response in the US since 2002, including planning for the H5N1 in 2005, H1N1 in 2009, MERS in 2012, Ebola in 2014 and Zika in 2015.
Madhav is an endowed Distinguished Professor in Biocomplexity, Director of the Network Systems Science and Advanced Computing (NSSAC) Division, Biocomplexity Institute and Initiative at the University of Virginia, and an alumnus of IIT Madras.
In a recent interview with The Hindu he describes the challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses India’s potential response. Here are a few excerpts:
What is the challenge in modeling or studying a pandemic, COVID-19 in particular?
Covid-19 presents a number of new challenges in my opinion. In this case, three things happened: (1) The pandemic started in a densely populated region of the world unlike Ebola, which started near Liberia in West Africa; (2) Unlike West Africa, China is much more strongly connected with the world, in terms of economic activity and human mobility; and (3) the incubation period of the disease is longer than many other flu viruses. Moreover, a large number of people – the silent spreaders – don’t show any symptoms at all while being infectious. This makes it hard to track the spread of the disease. Finally, the social and economic impact of this pandemic will go way beyond any disaster we have seen in a long time. Recovering from this impact will require a coordinated global response.
Different countries are responding differently to this virus. So when you are trying to understand it as a scientist, what would you say are the key differences in modeling it?
The way we address how to understand the spread is to build the digital twin of the city. If you want to understand infectious diseases in a large city such as Chennai, then you want to build a realistic social contact network that represents Chennai. In the social network each node is a person and the edge between each person reflects their social connectivity. For example if you and your neighbour come into contact with each other, there will be an edge between you and the neighbour. The problem is the difficulty in constructing these network in the first place. Especially when studying social networks for a large city like Chennai; once the number is more than 15 or 20 nodes, it becomes very hard to synthesise such networks.
We came up with a novel way of constructing a synthetic representation of this network. i.e. a network representation that statistically captures the interactions but need not necessarily be identical to the population.
You can find the full interview with Dr. Madhav Marathe in The Hindu. You can find his research page here - https://covid19.biocomplexity.virginia.edu/. Some of the above work is in collaboration with Prof. Aravind Srinivasan at U. Maryland (also an IITM alumnus). Dr. Marathe has been invited by the ACM and is also presenting his work to the Governer's office in Virginia. In his words "We are passionate about this work and feel is the best way for me as a scientist to contribute to the society."
Bio: Rekha Ranganathan is the President and CEO, CAE Healthcare at CAE Healthcare. In her role, she is responsible for the overall Global P&l for CAE Healthcare reporting to the Global CEO and the Board. She has deep experience in Emerging Markets - India, China and Brazil, and her specialities include Medical devices, health care and high technology. Rekha is an alumnus of Wharton School, University of California, Berkeley, and an alumnus of IIT Madras.
COVID-19 Work: CAE was recently featured in the press for their efforts to design and manufacture ventilators. Aerospace manufacturer CAE Inc. developed an easy-to-build ventilator with hopes of making 10,000 over the next three months to treat COVID-19 patients in Canada. Per the CAE team, "This is a wartime effort:' Flight simulator CAE designs ventilator prototype in 11 days — aims to produce 10,000 in 3 months". The Montreal-based company predominantly makes flight simulators for the aviation industry and offers training services for civil pilots and the defense sector. It has a healthcare division, that Rekha leads, that builds realistic, mannequin patient simulators, and offers solutions for healthcare training.
CAE shifted gears to create a ventilator after the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center issued a challenge for an easy-to-use, low-cost ventilator design. A ventilator essentially requires parts to pump air, valves to control pressure, sensors to monitor pressure and electronics so healthcare workers can monitor what’s happening. CAE leveraged both its parts and manufacturing tech to address this challenge. More information is available here.
In addition, CAE Healthcare is helping Healthcare professionals all over the world on training and to seek better solutions on training especially with COVID-19. Link is www.caehealthcare.com
Brief Bio of Dr. Rajesh Sundaresan: After graduating from IITM in ECE, I went to Princeton for a PhD in EE. Subsequently, I worked on 3G modems at Qualcomm from 1999-2005 and then joined IISc in 2005 where I'm currently a professor in the ECE department. I am currently the convenor of the Centre for Networked Intelligence at IISc, and an associate faculty of the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber-Physical Systems. At these centres, we mostly work on research related to smart city solutions. https://ece.iisc.ac.in/~rajeshs/
COVID-19 related work: We are working on an agent-based model to simulate epidemic spread in a big city. Of course you will know that we are in a lockdown, initially imposed for 21 days and then extended to 40 days. We want to use our tool to explore and compare various post-lockdown scenarios. Together with TIFR Mumbai, we wrote a report on unlocking the lockdown in India with a focus on Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Madhav, Rekha and Rajesh's work are outstanding examples of how IITM alumni are helping fight this global pandemic, and we wish them the very best. Are you aware of other IITM Alumni actively involved in helping solve the problems created by COVID-19? Please let us know!