I was born in Colombia where I was raised by a Colombian father and an American mother. Despite growing up surrounded (but not personally affected) by the violence and kidnappings of the 1980s and 1990s, I aspired to become a scientist. After spending one semester studying at a university in Colombia, I realized I was unable to focus on science while surrounded by a violent culture and in an educational institution that was constantly affected by strikes*. I moved to the United States in order to pursue my goal of becoming a scientific researcher.
I began my studies by completing my undergraduate degree in physics from UCSD. I enjoyed studying physics but sought to apply what I had learned to every day problems that affected many individuals. Hence, I pursued a Ph.D. in medical physics and bioinformatics from the Division of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. Subsequently, I was a BIRT research fellow at the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program under the guidance of Zak Kohane and Scott Weiss. In 2010, I became a faculty member of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School (HMS) at the rank of Instructor. I was promoted to Assistant Professor at these same institutions in June 2013, and kept that rank until moving to the University of Pennsylvania. Faculty appointments and ranks at HMS are a bit confusing to those unfamiliar with HMS and its teaching affiliated hospitals. In my case, I was employed by BWH as an “Associate Bioinformaticist” while carrying the faculty rank of “Instructor” or “Assistant Professor” at HMS. Additionally, I performed bioinformatics work at Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine, and I was an affiliated faculty member of Boston Children’s Hospital in the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program.
As a trainee and faculty member at BWH and HMS, I performed asthma genetics and genomics research. I started this line of research by performing an asthma genome-wide association study (GWAS) using a well-established asthma drug trial cohort (i.e. the Childhood Asthma Management Program), and I continued by performing primary and replication analyses in four cohorts as part of EVE, a large consortium of U.S. investigators who study asthma genetics. Beside asthma, I have performed GWAS of asthma-related traits such as bronchodilator response and airway hyperresponsiveness. I continued to study asthma and related trait genetics via transcript expression studies and by integrating mouse/human genomic datasets.
In October 2014, I moved to UPenn as a recruit of the new Institute for Biomedical Informatics (IBI) and the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. From my first visit to the campus, I knew that UPenn would be the perfect environment for me. There is a wide range of innovative interdisciplinary biomedical research, including strong pulmonary clinical epidemiologists and airway biology experimentalists that have not yet fully embraced genomics. Potential colleagues I encountered were bright but also kind and supportive. I was excited at the prospect of helping to make IBI a leading biomedical informatics training program by contributing to teaching and mentoring in existing and yet-to-be-developed programs.
*There were ~6 strikes, with one lasting over a month, during my semester at this university. I am told that this particular semester is the worst on record for strikes in the history of the university. I know several successful graduates of this university and it continues to do good work, but things didn’t work out so well for me while I was there!