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Lindsell appointed to HEAlth Data Science Center co-directorship

Oct. 3, 2019, 9:30 AM

Christopher Lindsell, PhD, left, has been named co-director of the HEAlth Data Science (HEADS) Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, joining HEADS Center co-director Bradley Malin, PhD. The Center focuses on the innovation and application of data science to the biomedical domain. (photo by John Russell)

by Jill Clendening

The HEAlth Data Science (HEADS) Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is undergoing a reorganization to further refine the center’s mission, and Christopher Lindsell, PhD, has been named a new co-director.

Lindsell is assuming the role previously filled by Frank Harrell, PhD, professor and founding chair of the Department of Biostatistics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“The HEADS Center is now poised to accelerate its work, and naming Dr. Lindsell to a co-directorship will assist us in doing just that,” said Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. “The vision is for the center to be a powerful catalyst for innovation and translation at the intersection of data science and healthcare practice at VUMC as well as on a broader scale.”

The HEADS Center was established in 2015 to focus on the innovation and application of data science to the biomedical domain. Bradley Malin, PhD, has been a co-director for the HEADS Center since its inception, serving alongside Harrell. Malin is a professor of Biomedical Informatics, Biostatistics and Computer Science, vice chair for Research Affairs in the Department of Biomedical Informatics, and founder and director of the Health Information Privacy Laboratory. He also co-directs the Center for Genetic Privacy and Identity in Community Settings, and the Big Biomedical Data Science PhD Program.

Serving as an umbrella for many groups working to improve patient health and health care delivery through data science and bioinformatics, the HEADS Center has enjoyed numerous successes. These include being awarded a five-year, $1.5 million training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH, LM012412) and having research featured in leading publications such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine and Science. Center faculty also serve on advisory boards for prominent organizations such as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the European Medicines Agency.

“As a joint initiative of the departments of Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics, along with many other participating groups, the HEADS Center always has drawn upon key disciplines for the application of data science in the health care arena,” said Yu Shyr, PhD, chair of the Department of Biostatistics. “With the ongoing VUMC investment in our signature large datasets — for example, the Synthetic Derivative, the Research Derivative and BioVU, along with large cohort studies such as the Southern Community Cohort — the data resources now available to us are increasingly rich. We look forward to unique insights as the HEADS Center develops innovative approaches for leveraging these and other data resources.”

Since joining VUMC in 2017 as a professor of Biostatistics, Lindsell has served as director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) Research Methods Program and associate director of VUMC’s Center for Clinical Quality and Implementation Research. He has contributed significantly to a number of National Institutes of Health-funded networks, including the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program, and was recently named president-elect of the Association for Clinical and Translational Science.

“Dr. Lindsell has been a tremendous addition to the department and to VUMC,” said Shyr. “He is an excellent data scientist and has great experience and skill in working across disciplines, including leadership of cross-disciplinary teams — all of which make him a natural fit for the HEADS Center.”

Lindsell’s academic focus is on learning health systems, leveraging clinical processes and data systems to enhance learning from pragmatic trials and observational studies, clinical research data coordination, and designing and implementing dissemination and implementation research. Before joining VUMC, he was professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Medical Center, associate dean for Clinical Research at the UC College of Medicine and vice president for Research at UC Health.

“As data science approaches are increasingly developed for application to human health, challenges arise related to the data pipeline, data quality, analytical rigor and real-time computation,” said Malin. “Also, the problems being solved by the nation’s data scientists have not always been those of greatest value in terms of improving patient health.

“Moving forward, Chris and I envision an ecosystem in which we can create and apply data science methods to solve practical and analytical problems of learning health care and precision health in real time, in close partnership with providers and patients.”

As for his goals in his new role, Lindsell looks forward to leading HEADS Center initiatives that will strengthen the collaborative nature of the Medical Center.

“If we can rethink how we focus on problems to ensure that foundational researchers, clinicians and data scientists are working together to solve a common problem, then we’ll take a step ahead in improving human health,” he said. “The HEADS Center is primed as the catalyst for this collaboration.”

The Vanderbilt HEADS Center is supported by the Department of Biomedical Informatics and the Institute for Medicine and Public Health, including the Department of Biostatistics.

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