Duke professor’s math tool may help fight against COVID-19


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A little bit of math is going a long way in the fight against COVID-19. A professor at Duke University has come up with a new way for researchers to learn whether treatments are working.

When it comes to evaluating how effective a potential treatment is researchers conduct clinical trials. Those trials take a lot of time and they’re challenging to recruit for.

Duke professor of statistical science Dr. Fan Li developed a mathematical tool that mimics those trials – overlap weights.

“If you have good method, then you can have precise and accurate clinical information,” said Li.

The set of computer code can more quickly, and still accurately, evaluate whether a potential treatment is working.

It can compare data from different treatments to see what works best.

“It’s a method to improve clinical research and once you have the clinical research, the information can be fed to the doctors,” said Li.

Data scientists like Li are not doctors on the front line. Still, their behind-the-scenes work is making contributions to the pandemic.

“By providing better data science method, we actually help doctors indirectly to treat, to fight COVID-19,” Li said.

It’s a testament to how important input and collaboration from experts in different disciplines is.

Li said she developed her code several years ago but it didn’t start picking up speed until last year. Li said the method has been cited in more than 600 COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 papers in science journals.

“It’s not just COVID. COVID just seemed to be a good example, a good starting point,” said Li.

She hoped more doctors will use her math tool to find effective treatments for other diseases too.

“I still think it has a lot of room to go.”

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