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Getting Personal: Omics of the Heart

Dec 20, 2017

Jane Ferguson:                 Hi everyone. Welcome to Getting Personal: Omics of the Heart. This is episode 11 from December 2017. I'm Jane Ferguson, and this podcast comes to you courtesy of Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics and the AHA Functional Genomics and Translational Biology Council. I'm particularity excited about our interview this month. Doctor Kent Arell from the Mayo Clinic talked to Doctor Jennifer Hall from the University of Minnesota about her role as Chief of the AHA institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine. This is a really exciting initiative, which is bringing together researchers, patients and stakeholder to foster the growth and development of cardiovascular genomic and precision medicine. Through their Precision Medicine Platform you can access a virtual big data research hub and find data, tools, and collaborations. The institute also provides funding for projects related to precision cardiovascular medicine. You can find out more and register to access the platform at And listen on to hear Jen describe the platform and how this initiative first came about.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Hello. My name is Doctor Kent Arell. I'm the Chair of the American Heart Association's FGTB Council early Career Committee, and a proteomic and network systems biologist in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. As part of a highly collaborative team, my research efforts focus on omic space systems approaches for heart failure prediction, diagnosis and therapy. Specifically regenerative approaches to cardiac repair.

                                                This November during American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2017, FGTB Early Career Committee programming complimented the FGTB Council Precision Medicine Summit with a hands-on bootcamp on network systems biology, followed by a session introducing online computational portals and tools designed to enhance and facilitate basic and clinical cardiovascular research. A highlight of the second Early Career session was an introduction on the use of the Precision Medicine Platform of the American Heart Association's Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine presented by the Institute's lead bioinformaticist, Laura Stevens.

                                                With these recent presentations in the many ongoing developments in precision molecular medicine combined with my own research approach and interests, I'm especially delighted today to be speaking with Doctor Jennifer Hall, Chief of the American Heart Association's Institute for Precision cardiovascular Medicine. Doctor Hall received her PhD from U.C. Berkeley and completed post-docs at Stanford and Harvard prior to taking up her first faculty position. Welcome, Doctor Hall. Is there anything I've missed that you would like to add?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  No, you're doing a great job, Kent.

Dr. Kent A.:                         All right. Doctor Hall, the Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine is one of the newest additions to the American Heart Association. And as far as I'm aware, you've been involved with the Institute since the beginning. Could you first tell us a little bit about the history of how the Institute came to be, and perhaps how you first became involved?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  I would be very happy to do that. So the Institute actually started in 2013 in the Fall, when the American Heart Association Board of Directors made an initial investment. And the vision for the Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine was Nancy Brown’s, our CEO. And in the early years it was really led by the Chief of Staff, Laura Sol. And our lead strategist, Prad Presoon. And the original grants came out from the institute but was then called the Cardiovascular Genome-Phenome Center, or Study.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Right. I'm familiar with that. Okay.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes. That was the very early history. And it was rebranded in 2015. So that's the history. I joined about a year and a half ago now. And I'm just thrilled to be part of the team.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Well, there's exciting things on the horizon, definitely. So what is the mandate of the institute? And what are its principal or primary objectives then?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  So the mandate is to really provide a better understanding in the area of precision cardiovascular medicine to all individuals. And that means participants across the United States and across the globe, patients and those that are healthy individuals as well. And finally to scientists, researchers and clinicians.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And the five things that we are really focused on in terms of, I would say our principal objectives are really to convene people all over the world, experts, students, trainees. Provide transformative grants and this is at least half of our budget every year, if not up to 80% of our budget. Enable data discoverability and access. And that's through some of the new tools that we are creating. Act as a translation agent. And we can talk more about that if you'd wish. And finally to offer research enabling services or tools to our young trainees as well as our established investigators.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Perfect. Well, I think I had some questions to cover most of those topics. But the translation agent would be interesting, if you wouldn't mind sort of expanding on that a little bit right now maybe, perhaps before I get to the other questions I had.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes, absolutely. I think this means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Like one of the ways it can help people are, scientist that have been very focused in academics for a long time has not thought about intellectual property, or ways to really begin to commercialize their ideas and take them forward. So we used to think about bench to bedside. And the institute is focusing on helping these individuals. Helping these grantees really begin to think through how to talk about their ideas and to take them to market. So I'd say that is one way of thinking of the translation agent.

                                                The other is to really begin to take participant data and to bring new people into the field. So not only will we think about volunteers as being Heart Walkers anymore or being Go Red for Women volunteers, or one of the many 30 million volunteers we have throughout the United States within the American Heart Association and around the globe. But we want to ask them to contribute to precision medicine, and ask them to be a part of this new exciting movement as well and contribute data, interact, provide answers to surveys, and be educated a little bit more in the area of precision medicine. So those are the two big ways that we think about acting as a translation agent.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Excellent. With respect to intellectual property, is there an intermediary that you connect researchers to, to facilitate that? Or is it more of an awareness of how to approach your own institutional technology transfer offices, or what have you?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Well, you're going right where I would've led the conversation. So we're trying to do both I should say.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  It's just originally getting off the ground and talking to our volunteers at those academic institutions and figuring out the best way to do that. And then talking to some people in the industry as well to figure out how does it work best coming from that side.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Excellent. Well, I think the next thing that I might transition to is the grants, because points one, three and five that you made about convening people, enabling data access and enabling services and platforms may all sort of relate to the Precision Medicine Platform. And we'll definitely be speaking about that quite a bit. But one thing I wanted to mention is the variety and the number of grants that have been awarded by the institute since it inaugurated grants I believe in 2015, is that correct?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes. That's exactly right. And-

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  ... I think-

Dr. Kent A.:                         Go ahead.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  ... we're quite happy. We've given over 72 grants and that totals, I think, just over 15 million. But more importantly the grantees have just done a remarkable job I think. The running total I have, which I know is a little bit out of date is 98 publications, and many of those in high impact journals. And certainly in new areas that AHA has not been in the past, which is artificial intelligence, machine learning, and creating new tools.

Dr. Kent A.:                         So you're also trying to bridge multiple disciplines then I guess as well with some of these grants, correct?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes. And many of the fields like you're working in as well, thinking about systems biology and proteomics, and bringing the field to beta science along with that as well. So exactly. And in many cases we have private partnerships or strategic partnerships with others like Amazon Web Services. So many of the grants at least, one of the portfolios we have has many grants in it in which the tech credits, or the cloud computing credits if you will, are given to us by our strategic partner Amazon Web Services. So AHA provides the salary support for the PI and others on the grant, as well as any supplies that are needed. And then those tech credits for cloud compute and storage come from Amazon.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Excellent. Okay. And then there are other collaborative efforts with other institutions as well, is that correct? Like the Broad Institute?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes, exactly. We have a great relationship with the Broad Institute as well. They've been extremely helpful in helping us get our direct to participant recruitment program off the ground. And we are co-investigators with them on an upcoming NIH data platform grant. So we're extremely excited to be working with them and their team. We've worked with several people, and Doctor Anthony Philippakis' team, and with Noel Burtt and David [inaudible 00:11:24] and others there. So we just couldn't be happier with that relationship.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Perfect. Perfect. I know the current round of funding is defined as Uncovering New Patterns, and there are fellowships in grants available for that round of funding. What is the scope of the Uncovering New Patterns effort here?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  There's a lot of both science and tech built into that. And so, one of the ideas from the institute executive committee ... So one question people might ask is, "How do these ... How do you come up with these grants?" And it's really talking people, finding a need, listening to a lot of people no matter where we're traveling. And then bringing that up to our Institute Executive Committee who makes the final call on these grants.

                                                In this case, we were looking for a way to bring science and technology together. So if there was a way to combine datasets that hadn't been combined in the past, which creates some new data harmonization standards, perhaps there's some new methodologies around that. And that's one way to uncover new patterns that we were thinking about. That was the-

Dr. Kent A.:                         Right.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  ... original example that came to mind.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Or some new algorithms for-

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah.

Dr. Kent A.:                         ... interpreting data or what have you. And it sounds like there's goo dialogue back and forth and between the institute, and those who are sort of interested in the topic as well from the researchers' standpoint both clinically and for basic researchers.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah. We try.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah. Yep. Oh, I think you do more than try. I think it's a wonderful operation. So I see on the website that there's a new round of funding opportunities are soon to be announced. Can you give us any hint as to what the focus will be for the upcoming round or other things that may be in the pipeline in that regard for the upcoming months? Or do you want to keep it a secret?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  I can't disclose that. But there will be some things that are a little bit similar to what we've done in the past. Our focus is to really be on the cutting edge, and we are democratizing data on this Precision Medicine Platform making it open in a controlled access way. So you have to fill out a form. But we're really trying to get to those forms and turn over access to people, qualified researchers and scientists as quickly as possible in a very responsible way. And so we're piloting some new objectives around that. We'd love to bring all cardiovascular and brain health data together. And so people can identify and find new discoveries in this area.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Right.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And use new technique to do it. So the grants will be focused in that particular area.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Well that give me an easy segue then into my next question, which is focusing on some of the resources that are currently available to basic and clinical investigators. And after maybe perhaps describing those, where or how can individuals access these particular resources? So I know definitely the Precision Medicine Platform is one that we'll hopefully hear quite a bit about.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes. That's something that's been underway for about a year now. And we started with two beta testers that you can find the site at And we had two beta testers who Gabe [Lucenero 00:15:07] and Laura Stevens, and they were absolutely fantastic and gave us a lot of feedback. We've since hired Laura. Gabe runs his own company up in Canada in the area of bioinformatics. And they've just been fantastic. And since those two, in the last year we've grown to over a 1000 registered users. And once you register on the platform, you can register with your Google account, or however you ... It's a very simple process.

                                                Then you can search across all the datasets. Once you do that, you can access a workspace. And once you request access to the data, the data's put into a workspace for you that is really in the cloud. And allows you to use the power of cloud compute, meaning something that might've taken you weeks on your supercomputer back home in your institution, once you got in the queue, takes a day of a couple of hours using the power of the cloud and the compute power behind it.

                                                Each workspace also has over 85 analytical tools from visualization to statistics, to simple things. And we understand everybody doesn't know how to code. And so we're trying to make that as easy as possible as well. So there's some new things there. We're coming out with new things every week, and looking for ... If people are looking for help, we're taking emails and questions by phone and trying to reach as many people as possible. So we're looking for people to both contribute data and utilize that data to accelerate new discoveries.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Perfect. Well, I know, I'm working with Laura actually on trying to implement Cytoscape within the cloud space as well. So it's exciting opportunities. And I'm not a coder myself, but for those that are I know most of the applications that Laura is looking at are based I believe in terms of the language that they're using, is that correct?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  That's right.

Dr. Kent A.:                         I think so.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  So most are in R, or Python.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Python. Okay.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And they're on Jupiter Notebooks today. So the nice thing about that is that you can take that Jupiter Notebook, and those are being published in many journals today. So it's really a quick way to analyze the data, get feedback on the data from the community if you're looking for that, that's another piece that we're building in today. And you can have your collaborators work on that same workspace with you. And then just turn that Jupiter Notebook and publish it with all your methodology and code on it.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Oh, okay. Excellent.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And we're also establishing drag and drop code, so if you are just learning, you can take kind of from the recipe book and drag and drop, and practice and learn. And soon we should be hopefully working on some educational tools with our strategic primary, Amazon. So we're really excited about that coming out in the near future.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Excellent. And we're doing our best at the council level to try to help spread the word as well with respect to the platform, and that was part of our offerings as I said, at Scientific Sessions back in November. Laura did a wonderful job presenting the platform and introducing it to a wide variety of backgrounds. I think in a way that is really ... It's really helpful bringing these people together with different backgrounds, with different abilities. People are ... Regardless of your background, people are coming up with wonderful ideas and ways to implement these applications. Are you taking say, feedback in terms of how people are using these tools and how they can utilize different applications in terms of making adjustments and modifications as time proceeds?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yes. We're really excited about that, because we'd like to keep all of that data like any scientist, and publish that. So not only ours, it's better, but others doing similar things also will improve. And this platform is meant to work with other groups and to interact with other platforms as well and be part of the NIH data commons as well. And so we're really working to interact a use standard language and standard systems to interact globally as well as within and U.S. So we're trying to make it simple for all scientists. But gather as much data as we can. And a big shout out and thanks to you, and Functional Genomics Council for allowing us to be part of that workshop at Scientific Sessions.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Oh, we really appreciate the opportunity to be involved with it as well. I think one of the ... Another strength that as you mentioned is that collaborators can access the same workspace from different institutions so that they can be working together and collaborating without having to download an entire dataset in one space, and have someone working on it and modifying things, and then finding out that your collaborator at the other institute has modified something else. And then trying to-

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Right.

Dr. Kent A.:                         ... sync those version together can be quite troublesome at times.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And you weren't sure you had the right version, and datasets are so large now that-

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  ... really people think about it in terms of the researchers going to the data, instead of the data going to the researchers.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah. Excellent.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  [inaudible 00:20:55] the new ways.

Dr. Kent A.:                         That's perfect. Well, I'll maybe just reiterate that website. It's For the Precision Medicine Platform. And while I'm mentioning websites, maybe I'll mention, which is the homepage for the institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine, I believe. Is that correct?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Thank you for mentioning that.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah, 'cause if I'm wrong, please correct it.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Well, you see, I'm a scientist, not a marketer because I never mentioned that at the beginning. But thank you for doing that. And we'd love any feedback that anybody has of other things they'd really like to see there, or how we can be more helpful to the community.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Definitely. And how would people go about contacting you in that regard or in terms of setting up a workspace, or accessing a workspace? Would they go through the institute homepage?

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  In terms of setting up a workspace, you can do that directly from

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay. Perfect.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And once you request access to data, if you check on a box and hit, "Request access," it starts you down that road. It doesn't mean you have to commit. But it will start you down that road.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Yeah, it will set it up. Okay. Perfect.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  It will begin to set up the process for you. It takes ... You can put in there your grant, it takes tokens, it takes all sorts of things, because there's a small cost that is a pass through really from ... It's like if you were just to go directly to Amazon Web Services to create that workspace.

Dr. Kent A.:                         All right. So it's a small cost incurred for ... Okay. Excellent.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah. For what you're doing.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Okay.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  And so everybody should be aware of that.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Sure.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  But the institute is giving the grants for that. NIH gives grants and tokens for researchers to allow to use that as well. And like I said, the cost is a couple dollars an hour really. So it is not something that's gonna break the bank. And the AHA has built some stopgaps to try to keep those costs as low as we can.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Perfect. Well, that's much more reasonable than some of the bioinformatic applications I work with these days. So that's good to know.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Well, just the license fees alone can be challenging [crosstalk 00:23:06].

Dr. Kent A.:                         Exactly. Well, even institutional licenses, you still-

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah.

Dr. Kent A.:                         ... you're paying a portion of, and it can add up quickly when you're on there frequently. So-

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah.

Dr. Kent A.:                         ... a couple dollars an hour is quite reasonable.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Yeah.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Well, I don't wanna take up too much of your time. I know you probably have another meeting scheduled right after this. So I wanna thank you for taking the time today to talk with me and discuss the AHA's Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine. I seem to have trouble pronouncing, "Precision," today for some reason. And for sort of introducing the Precision Medicine Platform for our listeners. So thanks again for bringing these important advances to the American Heart Association membership, and for sort of introducing them to us in today's podcast.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Oh, thank you, Kent. And thank you for all you do for functional genomics and the American Heart Association.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Thanks Doctor Hall. Much appreciated.

Dr. Jennifer H.:                  Take care.

Dr. Kent A.:                         Take care.

Jane Ferguson:                 Thanks again to Doctor Hall for joining us, and to Doctor Arell and the FGTB Early Career Committee for supporting this podcast. And as we bring 2017 to a close, I want to thank all of you out there for subscribing and listening. We're excited to come back in 2018 with even more content and would love any feedback or suggestions of topics you'd like us to cover. You can leave a comment or review through iTunes or other podcast aggregator, or contact me directly at Whishing safe and happy holidays for anyone who celebrates. And we'll talk to you again in 2018.