PhD student selected to advance team science with Mayo Clinic

ECE News

Bridget Melton and Monica Bielawiec, Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance
12/12/2018 2:37:30 PM

Story Highlights

The Mayo Clinic mission is to inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education, and research, evidenced through their top-ranking hospitals, innovative colleges, and breakthrough research programs. The mission of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is to enhance the lives of citizens in Illinois, across the nation, and around the world through leadership in learning, discovery, engagement, and economic development. Recently, ECE ILLINOIS PhD student Arjun Prasanna Athreya was selected to advance their education and careers at Mayo Clinic.

Since 2011, these two institutions have come together through the Mayo Clinic and University of Illinois Alliance for Technology-Based Healthcare, with the goal of transforming healthcare through innovative research activities and education programs.

Arjun Athreya, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, participated in the Technology-Based Healthcare Fellowship at Mayo Clinic. He will be taking a faculty position at Mayo Clinic in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Arjun Athreya (PhD '18)
Arjun Athreya (PhD '18)
For Athreya, Mayo Clinic offers the opportunity to take his background in electrical and computer engineering to advance technology used in individualizing treatment management of patients with major depressive disorder. The work of the team he served on has been encapsulated in a clinician-friendly web interface they hope will be made available to all primary care centers and hospitals that are willing to follow assessments recommended by measurement-based psychiatry.

 “What I learned is that modern health science—and even beyond healthcare—is now ‘team science,’ a phrase I borrow from my mentor Dr. Richard Weinshilboum,” said Athreya. “It means multiple disciplines and thinking philosophies are needed to address a complex problem, and by working together as a team, we are bound to achieve what we could not have done individually.”

Using team science to advance and transform healthcare is what the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance is all about. Richard Weinshilboum, M.D., professor of pharmacology and medicine and Dasburg Professor of Cancer Genomics Research at Mayo Clinic, said, “I’ve been at Mayo Clinic for a long time, and this alliance—institution to institution—has been the most positive and most productive I’ve seen.” With the explosion of big data in medicine—from data-loaded electronic health records, to digital imaging data, to the genomic revolution—Dr. Weinshilboum believes the alliance responds to the need to combine medical and computational expertise. It allows burgeoning leaders from both Illinois and Mayo Clinic to physically interact and learn from each other.

That mutual learning has translated to real results for Arthreya and his team. While there are effective medications for treating depression, matching the right patients with the right drugs has been a clinical challenge. Patients may go through several trials of treatment, over the course of several months, before they see remission from depressive symptoms. By applying computation techniques to the large Mayo Clinic patient datasets, the team has seen large improvements in drug response prediction rates. Especially for suicidal patients, this can mean the difference between life and death.

“Not often do we engineers get an opportunity to be so close to the point of impact our technology has as when a clinician uses our technology to tailor diagnoses/treatment for a patient,” said Athreya.

William V. Bobo, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic campus in Florida, agreed that Athreya, and other fellows, make a significant impact by providing and sometimes even developing novel analytic tools. This is important, he explained, because new insights and approaches are needed to advance the field and improve the way patients are evaluated. During his career at Mayo Clinic, Athreya will likely find more intersecting opportunities in biomedical and computational sciences to improve treatment of epilepsy, heart disease, and more.

Athreya acknowledges the important qualities needed for working in a collaborative environment. “Like all graduate work, plenty of motivation, patience, and appetite for knowledge is needed,” said Athreya. “Specifically, the most important quality of an engineering student in making this team science work, is in their ability to learn, hear, and assimilate the unmet needs in the clinic. They need to understand how it is affecting patients so as to feel connected to the relevance of the study—and then develop technology that begins to feed back into the clinic.”

“At Mayo Clinic, our core value is that the needs of the patient come first,” said Dr. Bobo. “This is the perspective that we hope to instill in the Illinois fellows who work with us.”

For more information on the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance, and its educational opportunities, visit


Check out the original article on the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance website.

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