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New Faculty Members, New Approaches to a Fundamental Question

New Faculty Members, New Approaches to a Fundamental Question

With a new academic year under way, our classrooms, offices, meeting rooms and informal spaces are brimming with the work of population health science. We repeatedly return to a fundamental question: How can we collect, glean and deploy our available and vast data resources to enhance health and healthcare? Over the past year, we have continued to welcome new faculty experts who pursue effective answers to this question; each of them addresses it in different but complementary ways. 

Take, for instance, some of the inquiries that underlie the work of our five newest faculty members.

What can the communications that people create every day—from professional notes in the clinical setting to patient comments in social media—bring to the research we pursue formally? Natural language processing, or NLP, is one of our greatest tools in this regard, and the work of Assistant Professor Danielle Mowery, PhD, stands to significantly impact the way we do things at Penn Medicine. Dr. Mowery, who joined our Informatics Division just last month, develops state-of-the-art NLP methods to mine unstructured texts—unearthing information that helps us better understand disease burden, treatment efficacy and clinical outcomes.

How can we weave together information we garner from diverse sources? Several members of our Biostatistics Division come at this important question from different angles, and Assistant Professor Jing Huang, PhD, who also joined us last month, adds distinctively to that mix. Dr. Huang creates methods to generate and synthesize evidence from multiple sources of healthcare data—such as electronic health records, drug safety reports from national surveillance systems, and clinical data from pediatric health learning systems —for evidence-based intervention and personalized medicine.

How can the machine processes that underlie our research be made to learn and evolve? Assistant Professor Ryan Urbanowicz, MSE, PhD, an acknowledged leader in evolutionary computation, makes an important addition to our pursuit of this fundamental question and its application to biomedical and clinical problems. As a member of our Informatics Division, he will continue to develop new methods, integrating various kinds of data to construct a more complete phenotype.

What can the data tell us about helping a specific chronically ill population? The two most recent additions to the DBEI’s and CCEB’s communities of clinical epidemiologists are striving to better the lot of those suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD). Assistant Professor Nwamaka D. Eneanya, MD, MPH, aims to improve palliative care, to better inform decision-making, and to eradicate health disparities among patients with advanced CKD. Assistant Professor Jordana Cohen, MD, MSCE, applies epidemiologic and pharmacoepidemiologic methods to better understand the complex interplay among hypertension, obesity and CKD.

We look forward to the many new questions and innovative answers our research community will continue to generate this year.

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To understand health and disease today, we need new thinking and novel science —the kind  we create when multiple disciplines work together from the ground up. That is why this department has put forward a bold vision in population-health science: a single academic home for biostatistics, epidemiology and informatics. MORE

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