Katie Pollard, PhD, director of the Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biotechnology, has been elected into the College of Fellows of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE). This distinguished community represents the top two percent of the world’s leaders in medical and biological engineering.
Pollard’s election as an AIMBE Fellow recognizes her pioneering development and application of novel statistical tools for studying genomic data. She and her team share these tools as open-source software that is now used by researchers around the world, enabling advancements in bioengineering and beyond.
“Katie is a true innovator whose contributions will drive fundamental new discoveries in human health and disease for years to come,” says Gladstone President Deepak Srivastava, MD. “We congratulate her for this well-deserved honor.”
The AIMBE College of Fellows includes nearly 2,000 clinicians, academics, and scientists who apply their expertise to “advocate for public policy issues related to improving lives through medical and biological engineering.” To join their ranks, Pollard was approved by 75 percent of current fellows. She joins Gladstone’s Todd McDevitt, PhD, and Leor Weinberger, PhD, in this prestigious group.
“It is really exciting to be recognized as a leader by the engineering community, especially because I’m trained as a statistician and not an engineer per se,” says Pollard, who is also a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC San Francisco and a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator.
She and her team apply advanced bioinformatics strategies to build models and tools that optimize what can be learned from genomic data. Their many achievements include developing a statistical tool to pinpoint rapidly evolving portions of the human genome, and discovering that many of those are key regulators of gene expression. They also created novel methods for studying the genome of the human microbiome.
And Pollard’s leadership extends well beyond her research. In 2015, she collaborated with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to craft President Obama’s National Microbiome Initiative. She was Gladstone’s first female institute director and helped shift the female proportion of Gladstone seminar speakers from 19 percent to 53 percent.
“As an AIMBE Fellow, I will continue to contribute to science policy and open-science efforts, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Pollard says. “I will advocate for open publishing and equitable data sharing, as well as better ways to acknowledge author contributions, code, and data generators.”
Pollard also aims to help shift the culture of biomedical research so that data scientists and their models will drive the scientific questions being asked, while making new problems solvable.
“This would be a fundamental change from the current paradigm in which data scientists are brought into projects to analyze data after it has already been collected,” Pollard says. “Changing this would accelerate discovery and shorten the path to cures.”
Pollard will be officially inducted into the AIMBE College of Fellows during a virtual ceremony on March 26, 2021.