Uni student's role in controlling anthrax outbreaks

Wednesday, 6 April 2005

A University of Adelaide mathematics student may hold the key to controlling an anthrax outbreak in humans.

Using 'survival analysis techniques' Ms Jessica Kasza, who is in her Honours year at the University of Adelaide, is developing a model that could help world health authorities rapidly identify and manage an anthrax outbreak.

Anthrax spreads via spores entering the body through a cut in the skin, or the gut via eating contaminated meat, or the lungs by inhalation. If identified early it can be effectively treated with antibiotics but because its symptoms are similar to flu, it may be left undiagnosed until too late. Anthrax mostly occurs in farm animals and rarely in humans.

Ms Kasza is also a step closer to her goal after winning a CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences (CMIS) scholarship to attend the 55th International Statistical Institute (ISI) Conference in Sydney this week (April 5-12 inclusive), the premier professional development event for statisticians worldwide.

"It's important for CSIRO to encourage talented young statisticians to consider a career in research," said CMIS Chief of Division, Dr Murray Cameron.

"By supporting students to attend ISI, we're giving them the opportunity to hear about exciting developments in research and in application areas from finance to genomics.

"They will hear and meet eminent statisticians from around the world including a recent Nobel Laureate."

Ms Kasza is one of four mathematics students offered scholarships to attend the conference by CMIS. She was a top student at the Summer School conducted by Australia's International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics (ICE-EM) at The Australian National University in January. Her research is considered to have outstanding potential.

ICE-EM is supporting developments in bioinformatics and computational biology, which are increasingly becoming standard tools in biological and medical research.

Survival analysis techniques were first developed to analyse medical and biological data (e.g. for cancer and AIDS research).

The techniques allow researchers to take into account information about the development of a potentially fatal disease from not only the people who die from the disease, but also from those who recover either through treatment or naturally.

"I intend to use the techniques to analyse existing data about anthrax outbreaks in humans and draw conclusions about its incubation, spread and management," Ms Kasza said.

Relevant websites:

-- International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics: http://www.ice-em.org.au/
-- CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences: http://www.cmis.csiro.au/
-- 55th International Statistical Institute Conference: http://www.tourhosts.com.au/isi2005/


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