QHS New Researcher: Meet Dr. Wei Tu
Dr. Tu is a senior biostatistician and data scientist in the Canadian Cancer Trials Group and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences.
Can you provide a brief summary of your research?
My work is very much project-based and changes case by case, but I predominantly deal with what is called high dimensional data. When we conduct trials in healthcare, we often get massive sets of data that need special care in organization and interpretation. I am currently working on some trials at the Canadian Cancer Trials Group where I take large data sets and simplify them into solid, robust, and succinct evidence for researchers and clinicians responsible for using our findings to improve patient care.
What problem do you want to solve through your research?
At the moment, one of my big interests is combining clinical research data with the administrative data that we collect in daily health care. When you go to your family physician or you go to a specialist, your physician documents your current quality of health and any symptoms of illness you may have. Those stats are rarely used for research and exist more so for tracking an individual patient, but what if we started using this data for large-scale research? There is the potential that we could begin diagnosing and treating patients more effectively if we collect larger sets of data. We could also provide patients with more personalized care as we begin to pay more attention to their personal health history and that of their families. One thing that is clear is that illness doesn’t exist in a vacuum; our research should reflect this.
Why is your research important to you?
I did a PhD in statistics. One of the great things about the field is that there are so many different directions you can go. It’s not common that a statistician gets so heavily involved in healthcare and academia, but the work spoke to me, and I saw that I had the capacity to help improve our system in my own way. I think it's important that our research becomes increasingly interdisciplinary. When you have the opportunity to collaborate with people in different fields, with different specializations, and different work ethics you have the chance to do what you do well while learning from the expertise of others.
What do you hope to learn from your research?
I am always trying to discern how we can collect and process data with greater success and efficiency. A lot of healthcare is unfortunately still paper based. I’m trying to speed up our progress in digitizing the data we collect. Part of this process includes devising a system for collecting and tracking personal health and genetic health history. Though we already record most of this information, we often don’t do so in wholly useful and productive ways.
What kind of impact do you hope that your research will have?
My goal is that twenty years from now, you walk into a clinic and don’t have to fill out lengthy forms because your physician already has easy access to your complete medical history. This will also help doctors identify disease and illness before they progress too far and thus relieve strain on our hospitals. Increasing convenience and transparency in healthcare is something that I believe benefits all, and I want to contribute to this process in any way I can.
What is your favourite thing to do in Kingston?
I only moved to Kingston in January, but so far, I have managed to do a lot of biking and running. We are so lucky to have access to a beautiful downtown core and some lovely nearby trails!