The Graham School News

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

As part of a seminar series entitled “Trends in Clinical Research,” Lauren Wall, Director of Clinical Research Operations in Hematology/Oncology at University of Chicago Medicine, lead a classroom of clinical research professionals on February 28 in a discussion surrounding personalized medicine. Focusing both on the general implications of this emerging approach to medical care, as well as the values, benefits, and challenges posed to its ensemble of stakeholders, Ms. Wall guided the class through a lively and thought-provoking discussion outlining the direction in which medical care and clinical trials will head in the upcoming years.

In a workshop setting at once engaging and interactive, Ms. Wall structured her presentation around a series of questions, first answered by groups and then discussed more fully and expanded upon by everyone present. With an audience approaching the topic from across the clinical trial domain, with nurses, clinical researchers, representatives from pharma and staffing specialists present at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, the discussion was able to address the many perspectives to this topic which is changing the structure and design of clinical trials.

“With the current focus on personalized medicine,” Ms. Wall said, “the rules and regulations surrounding clinical trials are changing rapidly. It’s a particularly good topic to address with people whose backgrounds are in clinical trial work and who are grappling with these issues on a daily basis, because that’s where a lot of the effects of these changes are being seen. While you see a lot of marketing already happening around personalized medicine these days, it’s not until results start emerging at the clinical trial level that real proof will arrive.”

In contrast to the approach that dominated much of 20th century medicine, which focused on patients in general and yielded treatments of equivalent generality, personalized medicine seeks treatments nimble and targeted enough to address the specific requirements posed by a patients’ genomic, historical, and environmental profile. In a regulatory environment where pharmaceutical companies depend on amply populated, stringently regulated, and successful clinical trials to bring new therapies to market, the increasingly pinpointed populations sought by personalized medicine place new pressures and challenges on the clinical research domain as it seeks to re-shape the clinical trial with these new aims in mind.

With over ten years of experience in Hematology/Oncology clinical research, Ms. Wall’s primary responsibilities at the University of Chicago include planning, directing, and overseeing daily clinical research operations for over 300 clinical trials in the hematology/oncology section. Prior to taking her role in the academic setting, Ms. Wall worked at an Oncology CRO where she gained experience in clinical trial monitoring and project management. Starting in 2016, she brought her strong passion for teaching and mentoring others about the field of clinical research to the Graham School, where she teaches in the Clinical Trials Management Certificate program and seeks to share and speak with others about the exciting career opportunities in clinical research.

“Personalized medicine offers many potential benefits to all key stakeholders,” Ms. Wall said, “including better care to patients and healthy individuals to reducing healthcare costs in the long run. Although this paradigm shift has created many new challenges in the clinical trial setting, it has created a lot of new and exciting opportunities as well.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Masters of Science in Analytics (MScA) program at the Graham School held an open house on February 25 for prospective students, providing those who were interested with an opportunity to speak with instructors, staff, and present students, as well as sit in on TA sessions while having a look around the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center. Concluding the day’s events was Adam McElhinney, Vice President of Data Science at Uptake, who gave a presentation on recent developments in machine learning as applied to the Internet of Things (IOT).

“Everything went really well,” said Alison Ossyra, Assistant Director of Recruitment and Communication at the Graham School. “There was a tremendous amount of interest in the event and slots filled up within thirty minutes of sending out invitations. This was the first time we tried something like this,” she noted, “and given the response I’m sure we’ll do it again. And, of course, Adam’s talk was particularly interesting and insightful—and certainly full of convincing reasons to begin studying analytics.”

Titled “Recent Advances in Machine Learning with Applications to Internet of Things (IOT),” Mr. McElhinney’s presentation focused on the proliferation of sensors emitting smart signals that in recent years have infiltrated everything from homes to car tires to inventory on the shelves at Walmart. Noting that the bulk of media attention directed at IOT has revolved around wearable devices and home technologies, he pointed out that the real area of value and revenue generation lies in industry and manufacturing.

Concentrating on the sort of work carried out by Uptake, an industrial data analytics company of seven hundred people that builds computer models capable of forecasting the need for intervention, Mr. McElhinney focused on the uses and value of data taken from sensors installed on machines used by Uptake’s industry partners. With a data science department of sixty-one people, comprised more or less equally of computer scientists, mathematicians, and hard scientists, Uptake won Forbes Hottest New Startup award for 2015. And with its valuation of over $1 billion, Uptake sits as one of three companies in Illinois with unicorn status.

Noting that the decreasing cost of sensors and increasing sophistication of machine learning techniques are key drivers in this area, Mr. McElhinney went on to outline various strategies the data science teams use at Uptake to save their clients money and extend the lifetimes of their tools and machines through failure predicting. With examples spanning the locomotive, mining, and wind turbine industries, Mr. McElhinney compared the older, physics-based approach to failure predicting with the newer, data-based one using sensors.

“With sensors, we’re receiving updates on the machine in what basically amounts to real time,” he said. “The physics-based model, by contrast, where a physical system gets simulated, is static and incredibly labor intensive. With sensors installed in engines, tires, and anywhere else that might be useful, Uptake uses its machine learning algorithms to read the data and determine if the machines are operating within their expected ranges. When these key parameters get exceeded,” he explained, “our clients get notified.”

Using the some of the largest earth-moving equipment in the world as an example, Mr. McElhinney explained how a gargantuan mining truck costs $5 million dollars, with tires running at $42,500 a piece. It’s incredible payload capacity—four-hundred tons, roughly the equivalent of two hundred and fifty Ford F150 trucks—and fuel use—0.3 miles per gallon—mean it needs to be constructed on site. For every day it sits idle onsite, the company loses $1.5 million.

“So if we can preempt a potentially catastrophic engine problem by directing the engineers to make a minor electrical tweak before conditions get much worse,” Mr. McElhinney said, “or if we can alert them to a tire with incorrect air pressure, we’re providing them with a valuable service given what the costs and stakes might otherwise be. And this is true for sensors we have running on machines across all our partners in industry.”

Mr. McElhinney conceded, however, that many challenges still remain and his presentation went on to outline a number of factors and challenges that the teams at Uptake are working to improve, everything from errors in human data entry, known as “label uncertainty,” to the complication of contextualizing data for the particular environment in which the machine is operating. Locomotives, Mr. McElhinney pointed out, will produce an anomalous set of data when passing through tunnels, which means a correct interpretation of the data will include the precise location of where that data is being produced. With 2.4 terabytes of data coming in per minute in some instances, filtering and throwing out what’s unneeded can be a significant part of the challenge.

“We’re not looking for an algorithmic panacea to solve all these challenges,” Mr. McElhinney explained. “Nobody thinks there’s going to be a universal solution. It’s a matter of continuing to claw away at the issues, while increasing data quality and coverage. Improvement is incremental, but real as well, and the value we’re providing is already well along in many instances and only increasing.”

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Graham School Master of Science in Threat and Response Management (MScTRM) program brought together thought leaders from across the field of emergency management on February 22 to discuss ways to further operationalize private-public partnerships in response to threats and hazards faced by communities.

Titled “Help Us Help You”, Andrew Velazquez, MScTRM instructor and former Regional Administrator for FEMA Region V, lead his peers through a lively and thought-provoking discussion highlighting how insurance companies, financial institutions, and local businesses are increasingly realizing the value of establishing strong working relationships with public agencies. The panelists shared stories from their own experience with their Gleacher Center audience and showed them how these partnerships have become an essential part of the toolkit for supporting a business’s operations, employees, and bottom line in the wake of disaster.

“The goal,” said Mr. Velazquez in his introduction, referring to emergency preparedness and disaster recovery, “is for the whole community to bounce back as quickly as possible. There was a time when we thought government could step in and carry out its plan alone in these sorts of events, but such an approach clearly overlooked the capabilities and knowledge already present within the business community. We see it now as a partnership and the objective is to open up the lines of communication between the two sides in the most effective ways possible, always for the sake of saving lives and returning businesses and people’s lives to normal.”

James Joseph, Director and Deputy State Homeland Security Advisor for the State of Illinois, whose career has spanned both the private and public sectors, related a story from earlier in his career when he was Vice President of Security and Fraud Risk at HSBC. Tasked with developing a threat escalation plan for global terror risks, he described the elaborate document he worked hard to complete and which he then delivered in a thick binder to county-level officials. He proceeded to sit and watch as page after page was crossed out.

“The lesson,” he said, “was that plans can’t be created in a vacuum. Even in the recent past there was a sense that both sides believed they could tell the other side what to do. We’re well beyond that now and much better at understanding the value of continuous engagement—before, during, and after events take place.”

Jan Odeshoo, Interim Regional Administrator for FEMA Region V, also commended the progress made in recent years in building such partnerships, citing the centrality of preparedness in particular to building resiliency.

“Nobody wants to be in the position of exchanging business cards in the middle of a crisis,” she said. “It’s imperative that we establish contacts, do the planning, and have as much in place as possible before an emergency takes place. But we can’t forget that plans are living documents,” she added. “They’re never finished, and nor should they be. It takes the whole community to develop a plan and train to it.”

Mike Carano, Executive Director at ChicagoFIRST, which provides a collaborative forum for financial and critical infrastructure firms to promote emergency preparedness and resiliency, discussed the situational awareness and networking opportunities his organization provides. Through workgroups, workshops, and exercises, he spoke to the insight gained from collaboration and how it’s really about the private and public sectors helping each other.

“If we can bring fifty key people from the private sector together for a meeting,” he said, “that’s a wonderful way for someone on government’s side to connect with all these voices in their jurisdiction. Likewise, having an already-formed group like that helps when disseminating pertinent information we might receive from the government regarding threats and hazards.”

Tom Russell, Global Business Continuity Manager at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and also a graduate of the MScTRM program, spoke about his experience working with FEMA’s National Business Emergency Operation Center during Hurricane Matthew. He highlighted the dashboard that was implemented which allowed specific state representatives to provide him with real-time assessments as the crisis progressed.

“Operational components provide data in a streamlined manner,” Mr. Russell noted, “and being a part of that information stream was crucial. It wasn’t a catastrophic storm, but I was watching over sixteen offices in four states, so being able to get the right messages to the right employees at the right time aided business continuity enormously.

Marsha Hawk, Director of the MScTRM program, called the event “important and engaging,” adding that “bringing together thought leaders for a lively and informative conversation is all part of the program’s mission. We provide students with a comprehensive education in emergency management, while also serving as a forum to further debate and engagement across the most pressing issues in the field. Andrew Velazquez and the other speakers gave everyone present much to think about.”

Please contact Wendy Erikson with questions about this event and the resouces for organizations that our panelists discussed. 

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Giving Day, now in it its third year, is an opportunity to come together as a community and demonstrate the power of collective philanthropy to ensure that the University of Chicago is among the world’s great centers of discovery, education, and innovation. Supporting faculty and students in their quest to define future inquiry and its impact on lives around the globe requires a high level of commitment from a dedicated community.

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