Unlocking the complexity of a virus is the key to stopping its spread, and one Louisiana epidemiologist is leading the charge to contain virus outbreaks as they happen.
Susanna Lamers, founder and CEO of BioInfoExperts in Thibodaux, uses her groundbreaking software, FoxSeq, to investigate pathogen transmission and evolution by evaluating the genetic sequences of viruses. What sets the company apart is that it is quick to begin the virus decoding process at the onset of spreading.
“Epidemiologists typically study outbreaks after the fact,” Lamers said. “You can learn about transmission and other characteristics from that. But it’s not necessarily helping on the ground during an outbreak.”
The global COVID-19 pandemic sparked interest in virus genomics. Her work, described by Lamers as “part biology, part computational science, part statistical analysis,” could be used for infection control as it rapidly unfolds the identity and origins of the virus.
Lamers had already begun conversations with Ochsner Health System prior to the outbreak, giving her team a head start when they completed the first whole-genome sequences of COVID-19 from the New Orleans area.
The spread of the virus elevated BioInfoExperts’ standing in Louisiana’s healthcare system. Licensing FoxSeq to Ochsner along with Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and the New Orleans Department of Health created a network of sharing data in real-time. These facilities use FoxSeq to report to the Louisiana Department of Health, which uses the information to monitor and ideally limit spreading through contact tracing.
Lamers’ public profile has grown during the pandemic, but she’s not a newcomer and is quick to point out that her success story is not unique in her field.
“I collaborate with so many smart, amazing and aggressive women in the state,” she said. “It’s a great time to be a woman in STEM in Louisiana.”
BioInfoExperts, founded in 2012, is funded by the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program.