The Consul General of France in San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, visited with Dr. Raphael Gottardo, director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Translational Data Science Integrated Research Center (TDS IRC), in November to learn more about the Hutch’s unique approach to data science and implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning in health research.
The French government is increasing its investment in artificial intelligence in healthcare, including through the Health Data Hub, a dynamic platform developed for the innovative use of health data with the ultimate goal of improving health care. In this way, the HDH is akin to the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative, a local collaboration that is aiming to facilitate the infrastructure and analytical tools needed to share large amounts of data and perform data-driven research aimed at improving patient care. In both projects, experts seek to leverage AI to extract new insights from huge amounts of data, Gottardo said.
Consul General Lebrun-Damiens and his scientific team, Attaché for Science and Technology Jean-Baptiste Bordes and Deputy Attaché for Science and Technology Maxime Benallaoua, came to learn more about how artificial intelligence is being applied in healthcare research at Fred Hutch.
“Data scientists analyze data in novel ways to extract knowledge. Artificial intelligence is very broad. It encompasses everything from machine learning to public/private partnerships,” Gottardo said. “It’s becoming pervasive in research, but the Hutch has a unique approach.” Gottardo is holder of the J. Orin Edson Foundation Endowed Chair at Fred Hutch.
Lebrun-Damiens’ visit was primarily a fact-finding mission to learn more about this unique approach, which is currently focused on tapping the Hutch’s world-class expertise in immunology, immunotherapy and data science to improve cancer patient responses to immunotherapy, Gottardo explained.
This convergence is what sets data science at Fred Hutch apart, he said. The integration between scientists with different expertise, including in immunology and immunotherapy, clinical trial design, computational biology and data science — which includes connections between the TDS IRC, the Immunotherapy IRC and the Bezos Family Immunotherapy Clinic — allows for an unusual approach.
Input from computational biologists and other data scientists ensures that immunotherapy researchers collect and analyze tissue samples in a way that makes it possible for them to answer the field’s most pressing questions. Gottardo’s team develops cutting-edge methodologies to analyze vast amounts of data being generated by new single-cell technologies, and helps the center’s clinicians and immunologists use the optimal tools for their research.
Conversely, the Hutch’s experts in cancer biology, immunology, immunotherapy and clinical care provide critical knowledge to the data scientists — all of which results in optimized trial design and implementation.
Gottardo introduced Lebrun-Damiens and his colleagues to the center’s plans for the historic Lake Union Steam Plant, which will encourage scientific integration by physically commingling researchers with relevant expertise.
“We’re exploring new tools and technologies,” including through Dr. Jason Bielas’ Innovation Lab, Gottardo said. His data science team also stays abreast of the latest technologies developed elsewhere, benchmarking new tools to make sure that Hutch scientists utilize the best technologies for their research questions.
As France continues to invest in artificial intelligence efforts, Gottardo sees potential for strengthening the Hutch’s ties with French scientists. He and his visitors from the consulate discussed possible future connections and ways to exchange ideas between both countries, including potentially developing a joint training pipeline to help early career researchers train in the sister country.
Above all, Gottardo emphasized the human aspect of successful data science: “It requires team science to do this work in a meaningful way,” he said.
Sabrina Richards, a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has written about scientific research and the environment for The Scientist and OnEarth Magazine. She has a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Washington, an M.A. in journalism and an advanced certificate from the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.