A generic multi-level stochastic modelling framework in computational epidemiology [article]

Sébastien Picault, Yu-Lin Huang, Vianney Sicard, Thierry Hoch, Elisabeta Vergu, François Beaudeau, Pauline Ezanno
<span title="2018-12-10">2018</span> <i title="Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory"> bioRxiv </i> &nbsp; <span class="release-stage" >pre-print</span>
AbstractThere is currently an overwhelming increased interest in predictive biology and computational modelling. The development of reliable, reproducible and revisable simulation models in computational life sciences is often pointed out as a challenging issue. Population dynamics, including epidemiology, has not yet developed a language to formalize complex models in a univocal and automatable way, hence hindering the capability to implement in short time reliable, revisable and
more &raquo; ... y models intended for realistic mechanistic simulations. In epidemiology specifically, models aim not only at understanding pathogen spread but also at assessing control measures at several scales. To achieve this goal efficiently, best software practices should be supported by Artificial Intelligence methods to handle experts' knowledge. The framework EMULSION presented here intends to both tackle multiple modelling paradigms in epidemiology and facilitate the automation of model design. We therefore built both a domain-specific language (DSL) for the modular description of complex epidemiological models, and a generic simulation engine designed to embed existing modelling paradigms within a homogeneous architecture based on adaptive software agents. The diversity of concerns (biology, economics, human activities) involved in real pathosystems requires an explicit, comprehensive and intelligible way to describe epidemiological models, to involve experts without computer science skills throughout the modelling, simulation and output analysis steps. This approach was applied to compare hypotheses in modelling a zoonosis (Q fever), to study its transmission dynamics within and between cattle herds at a regional scale, and to assess the contribution of transmission pathways. Separating model description from the simulation engine allowed epidemiologists to be involved in assumption revision, while guaranteeing very few code modifications. We assessed the added value of EMULSION by applying the DSL and the simulation engine to a concrete disease. Future extensions of EMULSION towards a broader range of epidemiological concerns will reduce significantly the time required to design and assess models and control measures against endemic and epidemic diseases. Ultimately, we believe this effort is a major lever to increase scientists' preparedness to face emerging threats for public health and provide rapid, reliable, and reasoned assessments of control measures.
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