Award for University of Limerick MACSI team that was central to COVID-19 statistical modelling in Ireland

March 2020 changed the lives of everyone around the around. We were all worried about the spread of COVID-19, fascinated with R number and hoping lockdowns would not last long. Working in the background was the UL team from MASCI (Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry) who as part of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG), provided expert advice, real-time information and forecast models to the Chief Medical Officer and NPHET.

Recently, this work was acknowledged when MACSI were announced as the recipients of the President’s Research Excellence and Impact Award for Outstanding Research Collaboration. This award recognises our researchers who have made outstanding contributions in the excellence and impact of their research (beyond academia) and celebrates the outstanding contribution MACSI researchers played as part of IEMAG which was instrumental in the development of a statistical model to inform the national response to COVID-19. The team helped to generate the model that guided NPHET recommendations, and government decisions, about mobility restrictions, lockdowns, and the pace of easing of restrictions during the pandemic. It developed the population-based susceptible-exposed-infected-removed (SEIR) model within a matter of weeks of being asked by the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG) to provide expert advice and forecast models on COVID-19 responses.

Pictured at the presentation of the UL Presidents Research Excellence Award were back left to right, Ena Brophy, Dr. James Sweeney, Dr. David O’Sullivan, Dr. Pádraig MacCarron and Dr Romina Gaburro, front left to right, Professor Helena Lenihan, Chair Impact Research Community, Professor Kerstin Mey, President UL, Professor James Gleeson, Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President for Research, UL and Professor Norma Bargary. Picture: Alan Place

Professor James Gleeson, Professor of Industrial and Applied Mathematics at UL, led the project that was supported by a collaborative team in MACSI and experts in other Irish institutions. They developed and extended models that assisted decision-making, and provided visualisations and evidence that was directly used by the Chief Medical Officer and other NPHET members when briefing Cabinet and the media, at a time when information was critical, and clear, concise and easy to understand by the entire population in Ireland.

MACSI’s responsiveness provided an impact for Ireland and its population during a time of great uncertainty utilising structured and inclusive mathematical and statistical models to support the decision-making.

The Outstanding Research Collaboration Award honours extraordinary accomplishments that have a significant global impact and recognises collaborations in research from all disciplines, phases of a career, organisations, and countries.

Pictured at the presentation of the UL Presidents Research Excellence Award were, Professor Kerstin Mey, President UL, Professor James Gleeson and Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President for Research, UL. Picture: Alan Place

Congratulating Prof Gleeson and the MACSI Team, UL President Professor Kerstin Mey said: “COVID-19 triggered an avalanche of responses from both inside and outside the UL community. However, the collaborative approach taken during times of crises is what allows us to overcome the challenges we face, and the joint work undertaken by the MACSI team, led by Professor James Gleeson, is an exemplar of the impactful research ongoing at University of Limerick.

“We were in times of great uncertainty when all that we knew as normal in society was turned on its head. As a nation, part of a global community, it was imperative that our reaction and decision-making was informed, and knowledge based. In the area of statistical modelling, Professor Gleeson and his team supported decision makers at the highest level of this country, and I am delighted that this valuable work is being recognised through this award.”

UL Vice President for Research Professor Norelee Kennedy said: “The awarding of the Outstanding Researcher Collaboration Award to MACSI recognises the value of their ongoing excellent research with societal impact through successful collaboration that was particularly evidenced recently in their contribution to the national COVID-19 response.”

The awards are organised and adjudicated by the Research Impact Committee, chaired by Professor Helena Lenihan of UL’s Kemmy Business School.

“MACSI’s mathematical and statistical response, led by Prof James Gleeson, to the COVID-19 pandemic was rigorous and timely and fed directly into the work of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). MACSI team members are exemplary recipients of UL’s Outstanding Research Collaboration Award, both in terms of the rigour and relevance of their research”, said Professor Lenihan.

Accepting the award on behalf of the MACSI team, Professor James Gleeson said: “It’s a privilege to work with such a talented group of colleagues, and to apply our skills to an issue of national importance. Collaborations are hugely important to all the research work we do, and with the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis it was crucial that we could call upon a wide network of existing links.”

MACSI is a mathematical and statistical modelling research group that is centred in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics in UL. Since its establishment in 2006 it has developed an international reputation for modelling real world problems that arise in industry, science, and society.

We recorded a podcast as part of the award. In this podcast you will hear from Prof. James Gleeson, Prof. Norma Bargary, Dr. David O’Sullivan, Dr. Romina Gaburro, and Dr. James Sweeney who talk about the SEIR model, monitoring of restrictions, vaccinations and tracking the path of the virus throughout Ireland, disseminating findings to tackle real world problems. Former chair of IEMAG, Prof Philip Nolan discusses the importance of MACSI’s work the decision-making process to inform a national response to a global pandemic.

Listen to the podcast at podomatic

Collaboration Team Members:

Professor James Gleeson, MACSI and IEMAG Member

Professor Cathal Walsh, MACSI and IEMAG Member

Professor Norma Bargary, MACSI and IEMAG Collaboration Group

Dr David J. P. O’Sullivan, MACSI and IEMAG Collaboration Group

Dr Joseph D. O’Brien, MACSI PhD Alumnus and IEMAG Collaboration Group

Dr James A. Sweeney, MACSI and SFI COVID-19 Rapid Response

Dr Kevin Burke, MACSI and SFI COVID-19 Rapid Response

Dr Fatima-Zahra Jaouimaa, MACSI and SFI COVID-19 Rapid Response

Professor Stephen O’Brien, MACSI and Other COVID-19 Response Research Activity

Dr Romina Gaburro, MACSI and Other COVID-19 Response Research Activity

Dr Pádraig MacCarron, MACSI and Other COVID-19 Response Research Activity

Dr Elizabeth Hunter, TU Dublin and MACSI Alumnus

Dr Iain Moyles, Assistant Prof. York University, Canada and member of the Canadian Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group and MACSI Alumnus

Dr Catherine Timoney, Programme Manager Data Science in HSE West and MACSI Alumnus

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