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UNC Charlotte to start center aimed at predicting future pandemics

Claire Donnelly

UNC Charlotte will start a new program with the goal of helping to predict and fight future pandemics.

The program, called the Center for Computational Intelligence to Predict Health and Environmental Risks, will enable the university’s existing COVID-19 researchers to collaborate with experts across disciplines like public health, biology, computer science, statistics and data science and study, among other things, existing and emerging infectious diseases. Researchers at UNC Charlotte are already testing the school’s wastewater for the coronavirus and using a process called genomic sequencing to watch for new viral strains.

Dan Janies, professor of bioinformatics and genomics, will lead the new center. He said he hopes eventually the team will help predict new viruses and variants the same way forecasters predict the weather.

“We’re not going to be able to tell you, ‘There’s going to be a new variant on Wednesday,’ like ‘It’s going to rain on Wednesday.’ But … the goal is to better prepare for these things,” Janies said.

The center will be located on the fourth floor of UNC Charlotte’s bioinformatics building, which, according to the school, will undergo a $10.5 million expansion to add labs, offices and conference rooms. It’s expected to open in early spring.

In 2020, UNC Charlotte’s bioinformatics research program was awarded $9 million from the North Carolina General Assembly to support its COVID-19 research and testing.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.