For the past 12 years, across two presidential administrations, Eva Lee has helped influence how the U.S. prepares for and responds to medical crises that have shaken the planet.
She assisted with the U.S. response to the earthquake in Haiti and was on the ground in Fukushima for the radiological emergency response there. She’s worked on population protection against bioterrorism and pandemic with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and assisted with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and since 2007 has been an advisor to federal government policy directors on biodefense matters.
Now Lee, a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, has been selected to join the 13-member National Preparedness and Response Science Board (NPRSB), the federal committee that provides advice and guidance to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“I am very honored to be selected, and am excited to be given the opportunity to work with such an outstanding group of experts on the challenges of preparedness and response,” says Lee, professor in the Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and director of Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Healthcare. A sought-after speaker, she will make a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, on Feb. 13.
With her appointment to the NPRSB, Lee becomes the first person with a background in math, industrial engineering and operations research selected for the board, which is typically filled with emergency response leaders, or scientists trained in the biomedical domain. Lee knows that she is uniquely qualified.
“My area offers a unique and holistic view complementing the expertise of other board members,” says Lee, who first saw the rewards of application-driven research in healthcare in 1996 in a project with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, involving prostate cancer treatment planning.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering/Georgia Tech team’s research transformed the cancer therapeutics paradigm and won the prestigious Franz Edelman award from INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences). More importantly, though, “it opened my eyes to the many facets of translational science challenges,” Lee says.
Her work in biodefense and public health began in 2003 when the CDC enlisted her help regarding the challenges inherent in preparing and protecting a city and its population in the event of a pandemic or bioterrorism incident. The CDC and her team at Tech worked late nights during the winter holiday break, benchmarking and testing the limits of the existing technologies, ultimately developing a powerful mathematical and computational tool now used by local public health departments across the U.S.
“I want to advance the scientific field by developing mathematical and computational techniques and implementing impactful tools that make a difference to mankind and the world,” says Lee, Distinguished Scholar in Health Systems with the Emory/Georgia Tech Health Systems Institute.
Originally called the National Biodefense Science Board, the NPRSB’s new title is designed to more accurately reflect the board’s work, expertise, and contributions to the HHS and the nation’s health resilience. Working groups are established within the NPRSB to tackle critical issues, and the board is charged with assisting the government accordingly.
For example, one group investigates strategies on how to improve ways in which the federal government closes knowledge gaps and meets research needs as part of an inclusive response to future hazards and public health emergencies. Another working group looks at issues around the use of Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA) in pediatric populations, identifying and exploring the risk and benefits, legal and ethical considerations, and challenges through the continuum of preparedness and response. In other words, Lee will be heavily involved.
“I love mathematics. I love the theory and its application,” says Lee, whose work has been recognized through the years with numerous national honors, and who will present her research on medical preparedness and pandemic response at the AAAS Annual Meeting, touching on issues like the flu, measles and Ebola.
“It is beautiful to prove a theorem, but it is even more rewarding when I can apply it to a real problem and make it work,” Lee says. “I enjoy finding practical solutions for challenging problems.”