Around Winship

Applying Data and Technology to Improve Outcomes


The clinical and molecular data generated by Winship’s annual average of 17,000 patients drive more than 300 studies in cancer immunology, prevention and control, cell and molecular biology and discovery and developmental therapeutics.

Winship's Data and Technology Applications Shared Resource (DATA SR) assists by providing informatics and technological support for studies led by Winship and other Emory investigators. It is one of 11 core facilities at Winship that provide specialized services and equipment to support research.

Madhu Behera, PhD

Madhusmita Behera

Ajay Nooka, MD, MPH

Ajay Nooka

"Basically, our core helps researchers gather and manage data," says Ajay K. Nooka, MD, MPH, medical director of the DATA SR. "It provides them with tools to analyze data, builds databases for them, provides access to additional applications and gathers information from national data sets." Nooka adds, "Because we're a shared resource, we can provide our services at a fraction of what outside vendors cost."

Cancer data services have long been a priority at Winship, one reason the National Cancer Institute designated it a Comprehensive Cancer Center—the only one in Georgia. Madhusmita Behera, PhD, joined Winship in 2016 as director of what is now the DATA SR. She also serves as the institute’s chief informatics and data officer, a new position aimed at growing technology services to further accelerate cancer research. "Winship is always looking to discover new drugs and treatments for our patients," says Behera. "By using a shared resource like ours, researchers can apply data in the right clinical context to help patients live longer."

The DATA SR's team of software developers and business and informatics analysts collaborate daily on studies that have local, regional and national impact, including:

Supporting the Winship Lung Cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence), an NCI-funded project to improve outcomes for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. It is one of four SPORE grants in the U.S. dedicated to lung cancer. Winship's SPORE grant has its own Biostatistics and Biomedical Informatics Core, which Behera co-leads.

Developing a human papilloma virus (HPV) web portal linking state immunization coverage in Georgia with sociodemographic data to support collaborative research, provide visuals and information on HPV vaccine uptake and connect HPV-related cancer control groups and organizations around the state.

Providing technical support for the start up, implementation and effectiveness evaluation of the Winship Tobacco Cessation Program to help cancer patients stop smoking and improve their treatment outcomes.

Nooka himself relies on the DATA SR to study multiple myeloma patients. He recently showed that autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) can markedly prolong survival for elderly patients newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Although ASCT has been shown to help many younger patients, it typically is not offered to patients 75 and older out of concern for treatment tolerance and safety related to age.

In his study, Nooka found that ASCT can effectively prolong life for elderly patients when they are assessed for transplant eligibility using criteria other than age. His finding was based on data from elderly patients treated at Winship from 2006 to 2016. The average survival rate for these myeloma patients was 80 months. The data helped Nooka prove that age should not be the sole factor in determining ASCT eligibility for elderly patients.

As Behera notes, "It's a great example of how the services the DATA SR provides translate into improving patient care."