The Best of the AACR Journals Collection: Author Profiles
Title & Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Medicine (Hematology/Oncology) and Biomedical Informatics
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.
Q: What is your primary area of study/research?
A: Knowledge representation, ontologies, information extraction from electronic health records, and high-dimensional visual analytics.
Q: What influenced your decision to embark on a research career?
A: I got involved in research at a very early age during high school. I worked in various labs including “Nobel-adjacent” but found that my passion was in modeling and problem-solving. I was an electrical engineering major in college and obtained a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering before I transitioned to medical school. During my medical training, I set research aside to focus on becoming a consummate clinician and didn’t get back into it until the second half of my fellowship. At that time, I discovered the field of biomedical informatics and realized I was one of the few clinicians embarking in the new subfield of cancer informatics. One thing has led to another, and I’ve been fortunate to continue to expand my research endeavors while also maintaining a clinical presence.
Q; What excites you most about your research area?
A: As a clinician, my focus is on the patient in front of me, but I feel that much of the accumulated wisdom of the bedside never makes it back to the much-anticipated learning health system. I am excited that my research area aims to achieve such a system at scale by formally representing the clinical experience of patients with cancer. There has been so much progress in genomics, single-cell sequencing, etc.—but phenotyping remains fairly rudimentary. By creating formal representations of anticancer treatments and developing methods to extract meaningful data from electronic health records, I feel that I’m contributing to a deeper understanding of the whole cancer journey. I am also excited to be able to apply my skill set to new problems, most notably COVID-19.
Q: What do you do for fun outside of work? What are your passions and hobbies?
A: It surprises very few of the people that know me, but I am a big fan of Legos. I was one of the first visitors to Legoland California when it opened in 1999 (I was in graduate school at UCSD at the time, a stone’s throw away!), and I have an embarrassing number of finished and half-finished Lego models strewn around the house. My wife and daughter love to build, too! I’m also an enthusiastic but underperforming organic gardener and enjoy cultivating a completely edible backyard.