By Thomas Klumpp, M.D.
Statistical Analysis Systems (SAS) Certified Professional, Version 8
Professor of Medical Oncology
Cancer Informatics Data Systems Group
Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center
I have been involved in the design and implementation of cancer research information systems throughout my entire 30-year career. My father was the principal designer of the Apollo Lunar Descent Guidance and Navigation software that landed the first men on the moon in the late 1960’s. Growing up in the Boston area, I became intensely interested in his work and spent many weekends tagging along with him in the MIT mainframe computer laboratory. Along the way, I picked up a working knowledge of computer programming techniques and began my lifelong involvement in the design and implementation of computer-based applications. Simultaneously, my grandfather, who spent part of his career as an academic hematologist, piqued my interested in academic hematology. Over the years I have walked in both sets of footsteps and have continued to devote about half my professional effort to academic patient care, teaching, and research, and half to the design, implementation, and enhancement of cancer research information systems.
I feel very fortunate that I have been able to devote a substantial portion of my time to two such fascinating and disparate disciplines. I particularly enjoy writing medically complex computer programming code, because it makes use of my background in both areas. Examples include the development of code to translate back-and-forth between the various complex categorizations of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, software to compare what is actually happening to specific patients with what is supposed to be happening to each patient based on the treatment protocol or protocols on which each patient is enrolled. I also derive a great deal of pleasure from providing medical students, interns, residents, and post-doctoral fellows with a basic understanding of how to avoid common errors in the interpretation of the medical research literature from the statistical perspective, while simultaneously extracting high-quality answers to their specific medical questions from the cancer research information systems I’ve developed.
The more experienced I became in my work, the more I realize that an important barrier to cancer research is the fact that most academic cancer centers maintain literally dozens of repositories, most of which are:
- poorly documented
- characterized by a significant prevalence of incorrect information
- minimally intercommunicating
- highly redundant
Data repositories in place at academic medical centers are used to support patient care, teaching, research, administration, and other activities. But the above-listed problems with these systems decreases research productivity, decreases the scientific validity of the studies they are supporting, and uses up resources that could be used more productively elsewhere. A major focus of my work over the past 30 years has been consolidating low quality data repositories into smaller numbers of well-documented, highly quality-assured, easy to access systems that increase the quality, scientific validity, and productivity of research, teaching, patient care, and activities, while simultaneously reducing overall data management costs.
In 2012, I received an exciting invitation from Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) to enhance the cancer informatics infrastructure here. I arrived at TJU in mid-2014, and shortly thereafter embarked on the development of a multipurpose cancer research information system based on the National Cancer Institute-sponsored Biomedical Research Integrated Domain Group (BRIDG) Model. Since arriving at TJU, I have been serving as the Medical Director of the “Cancer Informatics Data System” (CIDS), which enjoys support from the Departments of Medical Oncology and Information Services and Technology, and from the Thomas Jefferson University/Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.
Thomas Jefferson University Cancer Informatics Data SystemMoving forward with the NCI-sponsored BRIDG model, I hope to expand our current system to increase the quality and productivity of research, teaching, and patient care in areas that we have not previously been able to support, including basic, translational, and clinical research in the areas of medical oncology, surgical oncology, and radiation oncology.