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Graduate student collaborates with PNNL on infectious disease prediction modeling

Closeup of Ravikiran Keshava Murthy
Ravikiran Keshava Murthy

A Washington State University student is using internet-based data collection about disease events in pre-determined locations and various modeling techniques to predict the spread of diseases. 

Ravikiran Keshava Murthy, a WSU College of Veterinary Medicine doctorate student and participant in the WSU-Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Distinguished Graduate Research Program (DGRP), is working with researchers at PNNL on the project to forecast infectious disease outbreaks. 

“Infectious diseases continue to pose major threats to human and animal health security, and the economy across the globe. Rapid detection and reporting of such disease events are crucial for health authorities to implement effective control and preventive measures,” said Keshava Murthy. “Unfortunately, there can be a significant lag time between the time it is detected and when it is reported. A prediction model like this will help bridge the gap between when it’s detected and when it’s being reported.”

Keshava Murthy hopes to one day be able to use his research to better inform public health initiatives across the globe including India, his native country.

As a veterinarian studying infectious disease epidemiology and public health, he was drawn to the DGRP program after learning that Lauren Charles, research professor with the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, had a joint appointment with WSU and PNNL. Charles leads a team at PNNL focused on biosurveillance and disease forecasting through the development of state-of-the-art data analytic pipelines. Learning from Charles and working on her team made Keshava Murthy excited to join the DGRP. Charles now serves as both Keshava Murthy’s WSU and PNNL advisor for the program.

“After I applied for my doctorate program, I knew I wanted to work with Dr. Charles. I knew the DGRP was a great program to get involved in because I could be a WSU student while also have access to all of the resources of PNNL,” said Keshava Murthy. 

One of those resources, Keshava Murthy says, is the ability to work with statisticians, data engineers, and computer scientists all on one project, dissecting the problem from their individual specialties and coming up with solutions that when combined, solve the challenge.

Now in his fourth year in his graduate program, Keshava Murthy recently attended the 2022 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritize Scientists (ABRCMS) in Anaheim, California. The conference is hosted by the American Society for Microbiology with the goal to move the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) forward by being more inclusive of minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities working in these fields. The four-day conference has programming tracks for undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral scientists, and non-students, such as program directors, faculty, and administrators. 

“For the last two years, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to attend a conference. The pandemic made that challenging,” said Keshava Murthy. “When the DGRP told me about the ABRCMS Conference, I was immediately excited to attend. The DGRP provided financial support for my attendance. The conference offered an invaluable opportunity to network with other future and current scientists while learning about outstanding research with real impact.”

The DGRP helps identify opportunities, such as the ABRCMS Conference, to participate in. The program also is committed to finding ways to promote diversity. 

The DGRP is designed to increase the quality and quantity of STEM doctorate students across the WSU system while providing an enhanced research experience by aligning WSU faculty and students with PNNL scientists and the unique capabilities and research programs at PNNL. The DGRP also is helping to recruit students to WSU graduate programs in existing areas of collaboration with PNNL, including nuclear science and engineering, electric power grid, bioproducts, catalysis, water and soil science and engineering, among others.  

The WSU-PNNL DGRP is accepting applications for its seventh cohort. Students are nominated to the program by a WSU faculty member and a PNNL scientist. Interested advisors from WSU and PNNL should submit a joint-DGRP application no later than Feb. 13. For more information, please visit the DGRP website.

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