North Central College - Naperville, IL

Chinese CDC looks to Gao for answers

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Linda Gao, professor of mathematics with Maria Gommel ’13 and Sam Jaros ’12
Linda Gao, professor of mathematics with Maria Gommel ’13 and Sam Jaros ’12

Research assistance from North Central College could help determine whether residents of China receive government-funded vaccinations for chicken pox. This summer, Linda Gao, professor of mathematics, hosted a representative of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Dr. Dapeng Yin, M.D., an epidemiologist who works for the agency in Beijing, visited North Central for five weeks to consult with Gao. She has been using mathematical models to research trends of the spread of the disease and the cost-benefits of various vaccination strategies in China. In 2005, Gao spoke to the World Health Organization on rubella vaccination strategies for China and her work has been published in the Chinese Journal of Vaccines and Immunization.

Yin happened to see that article prior to publication. “He sent me a very enthusiastic email,” Gao says. “One thing led to another.”

The pair’s findings will be presented to Chinese officials, who could then decide to fund distribution of the vaccine, explains Yin. “The government pays for 14 other vaccines but the parents need to pay for the chicken pox vaccine,” he says. “The government wants to know the result if it covers the cost of the vaccine. This research has been very useful.” One of the challenges of the research is that the population of China continues to grow, while the population of the United States as stabilized. And new vaccines, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, continue to become available, Yin adds.

Gao also supervised three North Central students who investigated mathematical models for determining the impact of chicken pox and shingles vaccines on the U.S. population. The student team was using a more simplified model to test and compare vaccine strategies and predict the outcome among age groups.  “It’s been great to apply mathematics to real-world problem-solving,” says Donglun Liu ’14, who is majoring in math, economics and actuarial science.

Joining him on the project were math and actuarial science majors Maria Gommel ’13 and Sam Jaros ’12. The team presented their findings as a poster presentation on August 3 along with other students who teamed with faculty for summer research.