Collaborator Spotlight: Asieh Golozar

Previous Spotlights: Clair Blacketer • Kristin Kostka • Jenny LaneEvan MintyAnthony Sena • Kees van Bochove • Seng Chan You • Mui Van Zandt

Asieh Golozar, a longtime OHDSI collaborator and the 2021 Titan Award for Clinical Application recipient, is Vice President and Global Head of Data Science at Odysseus Data Services, Inc. She also serves as Professor of the Practice & Director of Clinical Research at the OHDSI Center, Northeastern University.

Golozar currently leads the Oncology workgroup, and she discusses its impact on her OHDSI journey, as well as its goals for the upcoming year. She also discusses her path to epidemiology (which wasn’t her first career path), why she is working with the Roux Institute around reproducibility, and plenty more in the latest Collaborator Spotlight.

You started you career as a physician, so how did you develop your passion for epidemiology?

I was not a big fan of epidemiology when I started medical student. I was supposed to become a physician and practice, why would I need to know about epidemiology? I remember the first time I heard about sensitivity, I thought it was another boring equation. All you had to do was to divide a by (a+c) and you will get the answer. No need to know what a and c were or what sensitivity meant. On the contrary, I always liked quantitative sciences and enjoyed the biostatistics course we were offered by the end of the medical school. During the internship, we had rotations in rural and urban health care centers to become familiar with the primary health care (PHC) system, how it works and its mandates. In addition to services such as maternal and childcare, the centers provide simple public health training to different groups of the community including people coming to the clinics to receive primary or preventive care. Giving a thirty-minute lecture on any health topic to stressed and anxious parents who were there to vaccinate their child or take care of their urgent health issues did not sound effective to me. Being skeptical about the value of these trainings, I decided to do a mini-experiment and prove it wrong. To do that, I needed to go back to the epi books to learn about the basic principles of study designs and epidemiologic concepts. I also learned more about the PHC and its operational framework. I developed training materials and pamphlets and a questionnaire on the topic I was presenting to do a before-after experiment. Not surprisingly, there was no improvement in participants awareness. I would not call it a study but more an exercise I later used for the report I had to submit at the end of the rotation. And that was it! This exercise changed my perspective. I was sold. Epidemiology was not boring anymore. It was fascinating, powerful and exciting.

How did you find OHDSI, and why did this community seem like the right fit for you?

I heard about the community in 2016 during a job interview. Never heard the term, OHDSI, before. I remember I was telling myself I had to check it out after the interview. I started going through some of the presentations and publications and I eventually joined the community in 2017. It took me a while to get fully engaged but what has always fascinated me is the energy and enthusiasm to do the right thing, to help and empower and work together to achieve a common goal.

You are leading the Oncology workgroup. Can you discuss what you are most proud of about this team, and a couple of goals for 2022?

I grew up in OHDSI in the oncology workgroup. It is my home. It is a team of overambitious and highly energetic individuals who are extremely passionate about oncology and creating a foundation that supports reliable and reproducible observational cancer research. One-hour meetings can continue for hours, emails become extremely long colorful threads of responses, ideas, and new proposals. I had one of my longest one-hour meetings with this group. We continued for over three hours discussing the Episode model. The level of energy and enthusiasm stayed the same during the entire time. We argued, went back and forth, discussed the pros and cons of each proposal and we only stopped when we reached a verdict and we all felt happy about it. We are all growing together, learning more each day and working together to make it happen. To me, this is beautiful and extremely gratifying and makes me proud being a part of this workgroup. This year, our overarching goal is to implement the oncology extension as a part of the vanilla OMOP and make observational cancer research possible for everyone with a CDM. The three different subgroups developed their own OKRs all supporting the overarching goal. Some of the specific goals of the workgroup are 1) Finalize ETL from NAACCR to OMOP; 2) Develop a roadmap for merging EHR and registry data and the oncology reference implementation for EHR; 3) Enhance, validate, and release the new OMOP Genomic Vocabulary; 4) Support data partners and investigators in the application of the Oncology Module for oncology research.

You were honored as a 2021 Titan Award winner for Clinical Applications. What did that honor mean to you, and what inspires you to be so active within the community?

I feel I am part of a community. But I don’t feel like a titan. Everybody puts in all this effort. It takes a village to raise a child. There is a lot of energy and good will in the community. It is open, inclusive, and extremely diverse. I get my energy from the community. The enthusiasm and drive to do the right thing and to improve human lives and the possibility to work with such diverse group of individuals and learn from them excites me and pushes me to do more. I am extremely proud to be a part of this effort.

You recently joined the Odysseus Data Services team, so can you discuss your new role and how it can impact the OHDSI community?

Odysseus is already heavily involved in OHDSI. But now we will also start contributing to observational studies. At Odysseus, I lead a team of data scientists, epidemiologists and bioinformaticians focusing on epidemiological research and advanced, innovative analytics across a network of observational data. We follow OHDSI’s best practices using open-source tools to generate reliable and reproducible evidence.  The team is actively involved in the community, contributing to the design and build of open-source artifacts and research studies.

The OHDSI Reproducibility Service was announced at the 2021 Symposium. How important is the concept of reproducibility for generating trustworthy evidence, and why is a service like this so important?

A bedrock principle of science—and of OHDSI—is that research findings must be reliable and reproducible. Health research that fails the reproducibility standard wastes time and effort, erodes the public’s trust in science, and negatively impacts patient care. The reproducibility service will pressure-test a study finding’s validity by attempting to reproduce it with not only the original dataset, but also a network of databases from different geographies. We will also evaluate the robustness of the study findings by conducting a series of sensitivity analyses. This approach will instill trust into research findings and help clinicians, regulators and other decision-makers with their evaluation of research findings and ensures well-informed decisions about patients’ care.

What are some of your hobbies, and what is one interesting thing that most community members might not know about you?

Hobbies? People still do that? I thought that is a thing of the 80s.

But when I am not doing OHDSI and not taking cute cat pictures, I spend time training my (and the cat’s) wine palate, coming up with new recipe ideas, and hosting dinner parties. And while the energy level is still high, I go for long walks, or I dance nonstop.