Tiffany Callahan, PhD receives University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Graduate School Outstanding Dissertation AwardKristine M. Sikora, PhD | Graduate School Jun 3, 2022
Aurora, Colorado – Tiffany Callahan, PhD, 2021 graduate of the Computational Bioscience PhD program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz), is the recipient of the prestigious 2022 Outstanding Dissertation Award.
The Graduate School honors the recent graduate who produced the best dissertation and dissertation defense out of all graduates from the preceding three semesters. Nominations were submitted by faculty mentors and/or any members of a student's thesis committee and highlighted elements of the dissertation and defense that were truly outstanding.
Dr. Callahan’s dissertation, entitled “Learning Deep translational Patient Representations: Systematic Integration of Clinical Records and Biomedical Knowledge”, focused on addressing challenges of using limited clinical data to build computational phenotypes that capture important clinical, biological, and environmental contexts. Through the design and execution of more than 500 experiments, Dr. Callahan created several novel open-source algorithms, datasets, and resources to help researchers create stable, scalable, and interoperable patient representations from a wide variety of complex, heterogeneous, and multi-scale data. Using these tools, she demonstrated that carefully constructed large-scale biomedical knowledge graphs can be used to integrate clinical observations with independent samples of publicly available biological experiments to infer clinically meaningful and biologically relevant unobserved patient-level molecular mechanisms.
Dr. Callahan was nominated by Larry Hunter, PhD, Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the Program Director for the Computational Bioscience PhD program at CU Anschutz and Michael Kahn, MD, PhD, Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at CU Anschutz.
In their nomination, they highlighted that “[Dr. Callahan’s] dissertation presented solutions for key open problems in translational informatics, resulting in a novel and powerful new way of representing rare disease patients at a mechanistic, molecular level starting from their clinical records.” They add “The impact of this work can be seen in its effects on, among others, the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics program, the Human Phenotype Ontology itself, and on national clinical resources such as the National Covid Cohort Collaborative.”
Numerous examples were provided to emphasize the impact of Dr. Callahan’s work, especially in clinical settings where her databases and repositories are already serving as key resources. “It is rare that any body of work have such wide-ranging impact.” said Drs Hunter and Kahn. “For a PhD dissertation completed last fall, the number of applications and collaborations that have already arisen from it is truly remarkable.”
“I am thrilled to have been selected for the 2022 Outstanding Dissertation Award!” Dr. Callhan exclaimed when asked what this award means to her. “An outstanding dissertation is the product of an outstanding environment. I chose the Computational Bioscience Program at CU Anschutz to pursue a PhD because it offered me access to amazing mentorship, rigorous training, and state-of-the-art resources not often available at other institutions.”
Dr. Callahan goes on to acknowledge members of her support system. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my official advisors, Drs. Michael Kahn and Lawrence Hunter and unofficial advisors Drs. Tell Bennett, William A. Baumgartner Jr., and Adrianne Stefanski who supported and encouraged me to dream big and were instrumental in helping me to develop and complete the research featured in my dissertation. They also helped me to build an amazing team of collaborators on campus including Sara Deakyne-Davies from Research Informatics at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado and the Health Data Compass. The resources provided by these organizations were invaluable to my research. This team also includes my dissertation committee (Drs. Tell Bennett, Laura Saba, Stan Szefler, and Nicole Vasilevsky) who turned what for most students is an incredibly stressful experience into a rewarding and fun learning opportunity.”
She concludes, “I am deeply grateful for the outstanding education, training, and support I received at CU Anschutz. I carry these experiences and training with me to Columbia University where I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Scientist under the mentorship of Drs. George Hripcsak and Patrick Ryan.“
Dr. Callahan’s dissertation and thesis defense can be accessed on Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.5716401.
Dr. Callahan is the 2022 award recipient. Previous award recipients are listed below.
2021: Alexandria Hughes, PhD, Neuroscience PhD Program; and Sarah Gibson Cook, PhD, Pharmacology PhD Program
2020: Hengbo Zhou, PhD, Cancer Biology PhD Program; Rani Powers, PhD, Computational Bioscience PhD Program; and Matthew Becker, PhD, Neuroscience PhD Program
2019: Jayne Aiken, PhD, Cell Biology, Stem Cells & Development PhD Program
2018: Dayton Goodell, PhD, Neuroscience PhD Program
2017: Jovylyn Gatchalian, PhD, Pharmacology PhD Program; and Marybeth Sechler Lupo, PhD, Cancer Biology PhD Program
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