Who We Are

Co-Directors: Bradley Malin, Ph.D. and Frank Harrell, Ph.D. 


The Vanderbilt HEAlth Data Science Center (HEADS) was established to focus on the innovation and application of data science to the biomedical domain.  HEADS serves as an umbrella for, and embellishes on the work of, multiple laboratories at Vanderbilt University working in this domain.
HEADS grew out of a confluence of technical advancements and policies that have pushed the biomedical community into the age of data science.  This is due in part to the wide-scale adoption of health information technologies, partially due to federal policies (e.g., meaningful use incentives), has stimulated an explosion in the sheer quantity of patient data stockpiled in healthcare organizations and made available to biomedical researchers.  At the same time, personalized medicine initiatives are making it increasingly feasible for physicians to collect more detailed data on their patients both within the clinical domain and through non-traditional sources, such as smart home and mobile technologies. And third, distributed computing platforms have become viable commercial products, such that spinning up and managing virtual machines in the hosted environments like cloud is becoming simple and cheap.
Many people are focused on “big data”, but this is only one piece of the broader data science puzzle.  To make the most of data, we need to engineer technologies that support trustworthy infrastructure and speed up scientific inquiry. In doing so, we can enable hypothesis testing over massive datasets, which in turn, could lead to detection with statistical significance - even for rare disorders.  HEADS strives to achieve success in this domain by integrating data-based scientists, organizational experts, and knowledge from specific application domains to ensure that the discovery process is oriented towards meaningful and actionable findings.