For Matthew Rioth, MD, Director of Clinical Cancer Informatics at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, cancer research is all about the numbers.
“There is a wealth of information to be found in biomedical informatics,” says Rioth. “This data can help better our understanding of how cancer works and how to provide better care for patients.”
If you are not familiar with biomedical informatics, it is the study of the data generated in the process of delivering and studying medical care. It encompasses things like electronic health records, clinical trial management, and the application of genetics. Essentially, the field works to make sense of the numbers that come from research.
Rioth, a Colorado native, started his medical career studying intracellular signaling in endothelial cells in the basic science lab of Judah Folkman at Harvard Medical School. He then moved to Tennessee to attend the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In medical school he became interested in translational science and informatics.
“I initially became involved in informatics because I wanted to practice medicine as I conducted research, which is difficult to do with basic science,” Rioth explains. “I approach informatics projects from a pragmatic standpoint of ‘what is going to be most beneficial for patients’. This approach keeps me closely tied to the clinic, but also allows me to conduct research.”
After medical school Rioth trained in an American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) research pathway program in internal medicine and medical oncology where he obtained a Master of Science degree in biomedical informatics.
So, how did Rioth end up in oncology after focusing his studies on numbers?
“I did not always want to go into oncology. However, like many people in this field I have had family and friends who have dealt with cancer in their lifetimes, and despite the advances we have made, it remains one of the biggest health challenges,” he says. “After working on cancer in the lab of Judah Folkman at Boston Children’s Hospital something clicked and I realized that cancer was the right place for me.”
Rioth has found the perfect combination of research and medical practice in his career.
“When it comes to cancer research in particular, biomedical informatics has several tools that will be essential to the future of precision oncology,” he explains. “Bioinformatics uncovers the genetic variants that give rise to cancer, but also reveal weaknesses that can be targeted with new drugs. Clinical informatics translates the wealth of healthcare data that we generate in the context of patient care, into analyzable knowledge to uncover new ways of improving patient care. Research informatics finds ways to combine cutting edge databases with new hypotheses to accelerate the discovery of new therapies.”
Rioth’s fascination with informatics brought him and his family back home to Colorado after he accepted a position at the CU Cancer Center as an assistant professor of medicine with appointments in biomedical informatics and personalized medicine and medical oncology. He is also heavily involved in the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN) initiative.
“After my first few months here it is clear that CU Cancer Center will be a driving force in ORIEN,” he says. “I am working with our cancer registry, Health Data Compass, and our clinical IT team to automate the data extraction process and expedite our participation. I am also exploring the data needs of our cancer center researchers such that ORIEN can help with their ongoing research.”
Although his career at the CU Cancer Center is just beginning, Rioth already has big plans for the future of his research.
“I am thrilled with the attitude and expertise of everyone I have met here,” he says. “I am looking forward to working closely with members of the cancer center, biomedical informatics, and our quantitative sciences departments to innovate new ways of bringing state of the art science to cancer patients in Colorado.”