Supervision by David van de Vijver, Andrea Conidi and Aljoscha Wahl

Epidemiologic models to assess the spread of the corona virus vary between countries, data availability, assumptions on how contagious the disease is, etc. Which models are the most realistic based on taken measures (e.g.: social distancing, protective facemasks, testing) and what is the main difference between countries?

The students participating in this topic are developing a stochastic model describing the progression of the virus through societies in order to predict what happens to the disease spread in case of certain scenarios or unpredictable events.

Specific events that are being explored in this study could include the effect of closing schools at different points in the pandemic’s timeline, the use of wastewater treatment plants for testing for the virus and strategies to end the quarantine of society.

Students use advanced mathematical modelling such as Markov Chain Monte Carlo stochastic SIR models as well as the extensive computational facilities of the TU Delft. A particular focus in the development of these models is to have them be flexible and thereby very widely applicable. For example, by varying the well-known R0 these models can be used to simulate different governmental measures and the general public’s adherence to these measures. The outcomes of these models and simulations contribute to a well-supported and informed public discourse about the virus.

Supervision by David van de Vijver and Rob Gruters

Predictions show that after being infected, people will develop immunity to the current disease. Is this indeed true and how many people need to be infected and cured before group immunity for the population is reached? Lessons can be learned from e.g. standard vaccination programs which could serve to better understand answers to these questions and to model the effects of governmental strategies on the development of immunity throughout the population

While speculation is broad and rampant in the public debate, this team set out to develop quantitative models based on existing data which predict the development of immunity throughout society through either herd immunity or vaccination efforts.

One of the central questions to be answered in this research is which vaccination strategy to adopt when a vaccine is found. By targeting specific societal groups to receive priority in vaccination, immunity could be reached more swiftly. Possible strategies could include first targeting the elderly and immunocompromised, the young people spreading the virus or healthcare workers.

By drawing upon knowledge and data from other epidemics and vaccination programmes, SIR and SEIR models are used to test theories and are refined in an iterative fashion to best serve the decision making concerning these strategies.

Supervision by Dimphna Meijer and Willem Kasper Spoelstra

Game theory is the mathematical field concerned with analysing strategic behavior of players in games. While it is often applied in economics or behavioural sciences, but can also be applied to study viral evolution. In this project, students combine simulations and analytical modelling with the biology of SARS-CoV-2.

Strategy is not just something that is used in war or in board games. It can very usefully be applied in modelling of viral evolution. Viruses, similarly to all living things, evolve over time through the process of selective random mutations. This evolutionary mechanism relies heavily on some important aspects of the virus, such as lethality, mutation rate and immune evasion. In order to thrive, a virus has to find an optimum between such aspects. A virus can, for instance, not multiply without depleting some of the resources of its host organism. On the other hand, it should not exploit its host too much, because it might die before it can spread the virus to a new host organism. Those and more viral dilemmas can be modelled using game theory.

This team supplies models and simulations which can be used to make important decisions for antiviral treatments.

*This project is made possible by the TU Delft COVID-19 Response Fund of Universiteitsfonds Delft.

Supervision by Aljoscha Wahl and Andrea Conidi

Influenza is a fairly common disease and many people are vaccinated every year and yet many people will get ill. What are the precautions taken for diagnostics, vaccination and treatment of influenza and are these approaches generally applicable to corona?

While the new corona virus is surrounded by a lot of uncertainty and unknowns, the influenza virus is well studied and known to researchers. Because of the similarities between the new corona virus and the influenza virus, this team is researching possible strategies to combat the coronavirus based on those used to develop medicines and vaccines for the influenza virus.

The influenza and the corona viruses usually follow similar viral life cycles consisting of several distinguishable steps. Each step might represent a potential target for treatments and vaccines to attack and break the cycle.

By gathering enough suitable information about the available strategies to treat the viruses, this team provides a blueprint for development of treatments and vaccines in this and future epidemics. An advice based on this systematic overview would indicate decision trees to adequately respond in a timely fashion when a new virus manifests itself.

Supervision by Laura Mezzanotte, Inês Machado Chaves and Willy Baarends

What sort of tests for the corona virus are available and how reliable are those? In case of another pandemic, will these tests be sufficient, or would it be good to develop a more general test for diagnosis? Furthermore, various labs and companies are working hard to develop vaccines or treatments. What are the most promising approaches and what will need to be done now to overcome the current crisis? All of these questions require lots of data and literature to be processed in order to be answered. The teams in Topic 5 are working hard to do exactly that.

Three separate teams are researching available tests, vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus in tandem in this topic.

A good overview of all of the currently available vaccines, tests and treatments as well as those that are being developed, can be used as a base for strategic decision making processes in multiple levels of government as well as industry.

Moreover these teams are researching methods for diagnosis of COVID-19. While symptomatic diagnosis is most accurate it is in most cases too late in the disease progression to prevent further spread. Other methods like molecular diagnostics could yield more options to contain the spread of the virus and to treat patients in an earlier stage of the disease.

Supervision by Maarten van der Sanden and Damiano La Zara

Now that every country is taking its own measures to overcome the corona crisis, countries are alternating between a fairly non-restrictive style and various scales of lock-down. What is the difference between countries/areas and what is, or turned out to be, the most effective? What was the collaboration between scientists, industry, policy makers and the lay audience and how did this differ between the different countries? We can learn from these scenarios in case of future pandemics so decisions upon the best possible measures are taken from the beginning.

To gain insights into the different mitigation strategies and their effects on the society at large, two teams are researching data on the measures taken in different countries around the globe and their receptions by the public. The combination of statistical data and socio-economical aspects provide a challenging design objective which could prove highly useful in preventing fear-behaviours and misunderstandings among the population.

The main goal is to combine all the lessons learned in a single platform. This platform is targeted towards the general public and would serve to increase understanding and insight into the governmental mitigation strategies. It could help to foster ownership over the crisis situation and could focus information for citizens to increase their level of comfort in these overwhelming times. 

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