The research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense wants to know when and where the next outbreak of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus will occur, and it’s offering $150,000 for the best new approach. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) today announced its first health-related challenge, which asks scientific teams to forecast over 6 months how the debilitating disease might spread in the Americas and the Caribbean
Hepburn says DARPA wants to find technologies that U.S. health officials can use to make decisions in the case of an outbreak. “It’s one thing to know what’s happening on the ground currently,” he says, “but really to design your response decisions, you need to know what’s going to happen next.” Forecasts of how severe an outbreak will be, where it might move, and who is most susceptible would help health officials concentrate resources in the right places, killing mosquitos and their larvae, or eliminating out potential breeding grounds in places of high risk.
The challenge drew inspiration from a similar competition at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focused on influenza prediction—a field that has received more scientific attention than chikungunya and benefits from an annual influx of data during the peak season. CDC’s winning submission, announced in June, combined Google and CDC data to accurately predict the peak and intensity of the 2013 to 2014 season.