Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from the Chicagoland area. I grew up on in Western Springs, a southwest suburb of Chicago.
What is your educational background?
I attended undergrad at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, majoring in biology. Afterwards I pursued a master’s degree in computational biology and bioinformatics at Northwestern University.
Tell us about your professional background.
Prior to Northwestern, I worked at the University of Chicago in the division of Human Genetics, where I worked as a laboratory technician looking to find a genetic correlation to asthma. I would extract DNA samples, perform PCR amplification, as well as sequence targeted areas of the human genome to find potential mutations. Over time I took on more and more responsibilities developing computer programs to help analyze the human genome. We would identify region of the genome that showed a certain amount of linkage to asthma phenotypes and then apply gene prediction software as well as identify particular regions that had been evolutionary conserved. These analyses prompted me to go back to school and pursue a degree in Bioinformatics.
Why did you choose to work at Northwestern?
As a prerequisite for completing my master’s degree I had to complete a series of independent research studies. For one of these research studies I had the privilege of working with the dictyBase team at Northwestern, developing new gene prediction algorithms. The dictyBase group happened to also be on the same floor as the Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) and when I graduated I learned a research analyst position had opened up. I hadn’t spent a lot of time working with medical informatics at the time but was fascinated with the possibility of connecting the medical record to our individual genomic data and thought it would be a good opportunity. Over time I gathered more technical knowledge and experience and was promoted to Manager of Research Analytics, which is the position I hold today.
How do you help scientists and research students at the medical school?
The research analyst group within the EDW helps investigators navigate and extract the vast amounts of data that resides within the electronic medical record that is being stored within the EDW. Once we have identified what data is of interest to the investigator, we are then able to manipulate this data into whatever format best suits the analytical needs of the investigator. We release this data in a myriad of ways, be it large-scale interactive dashboards to raw csv data extracts. We also provide this data to the end user in a secure HIPAA compliant manner that allows us to track when the data is being downloaded and by whom.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The best part of my job is the amazing team of individuals I get to work with on a daily basis. We have people from many different backgrounds, with different technological skillsets and experiences, that collectively help us solve some very challenging and complicated problems. There is no way one person can keep up with the exponential growth of technology these days, but as a group we can each contribute a specific expertise to handle these challenges as one.
Another perk of this job is the variety of different research projects we get the opportunity to be involved with. Every week we get introduced to a different domain area. The constant variety of work keeps us on our toes and expands our knowledge in the different subject areas for which we have successfully pulled data.
What exciting projects are you working on?
We are currently engaged in a multitude of exciting projects. One that first comes to mind is a project we are involved in with Mathew Feinstein, looking at the correlation of cardiovascular phenotypes in patients who are HIV positive. We have extracted many different data points from the Electronic Medical Record to help identify these phenotypes as well as help identify cases and controls that we can then compare.
Another exciting project we have been involved with is the Chicago Area Patient Centered Outcomes Research Network (CapriCorn). CapriCorn is a large network of patient-centered outcomes. It brings together 11 different healthcare institutions and partner institutes within the Chicagoland area as one unified network. The role of the EDW is to extract a large cohort of Northwestern patients as well as their corresponding diagnoses, labs, vitals, medications and procedure data in a de-identified manner to then be combined with the other 11 institutions.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to stay connected to the artistic and musical communities in the city. I perform and record my own music across the city when I have time and have found it to be a great mental balance to the more technical mindset of the world of research analytics. I also enjoy reading as much as possible, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Anything else we should know about you?
I am extremely excited to continue forging new growth and development between the research analytic team and researchers at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Some of our upcoming goals for the next year are extracting discrete data elements from health care text notes via natural language processing as well as expanding analysis of research datasets utilizing the embedded R statistical software within Microsoft SQL Server 2016.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn.