Community members who volunteered, ran and donated funds for the annual Hamilton BRIGHT Run for breast cancer research have helped establish a new research chair at McMaster University.

BRIGHT Run organizers have donated $2 million to permanently fund a new endowed research chair that will focus on advanced analytics in breast cancer and oncology. McMaster is adding $2 million to the endowment.

The new position and the inaugural holder of the BRIGHT Run Breast Cancer Learning Health System Chair were announced today at a virtual event. The first holder is Ashirbani Saha, an engineer who joined the Department of Oncology of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine as an assistant professor and research educator on July 1.

As the BRIGHT Run chair, she is focusing on developing a collaborative interdisciplinary research program, using advanced data analytic techniques including artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the care of breast cancer patients. She will draw on the large amount of local data through McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

“Dr. Saha’s recruitment is a bold move. By bringing an engineer into a clinical department, our breast cancer research agenda will be launched to the next level,” said Mark Levine, professor of oncology, world-renowned breast cancer researcher and a founding member of BRIGHT Run.

Nancy McMillan, BRIGHT Run executive committee chair, said her organization was keen to see Saha bring her unique perspective and skills in advanced analytics to collaborate closely with clinicians and researchers to unravel the puzzle of breast cancer.

“The BRIGHT Run is remarkable among charitable events, because every dollar raised by participants goes directly to research. The event is organized and hosted entirely by volunteers, with the financial and in-kind support of our community partners. This new position is a fitting and important legacy for the BRIGHT Run,” she said.

“This position is designed to improve the outcomes for people with breast cancer. I have a chance to make a positive impact on human lives through my research and this is what motivates me every day to make a difference,” said Saha.

“Healthcare analytics are vital, because they require a lot of input from clinicians and other disciplines closely related to oncology.”

The scope of Dr. Saha’s data analytics research has expanded into healthcare from engineering, through her previous research including analytics in breast cancer imaging in the Department of Radiology at Duke University in North Carolina and in injury prevention and neurosurgery at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

“Dr. Saha has a solid track record of both strong leadership and engineering expertise that she has successfully leveraged to improve diagnostic testing and imaging of cancer patients,” said Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

“Her innovations in the field of data science will help save the lives of people with breast cancer and further McMaster’s international reputation for cutting-edge medical science.”

Jonathan Sussman, professor and chair of the Department of Oncology, said the department is delighted Saha is joining as the inaugural BRIGHT Run Breast Cancer Learning Health System Chair.

“Her addition to a multidisciplinary and talented group of researchers and clinicians will advance our understanding of how advanced analytics can be used to address complex health care problems,” he said.

“Dr. Saha is ideally positioned for this role given her expertise and research track record, using machine learning and advanced analytic techniques, coupled with her deep interest in understanding how these approaches can be applied to improve the lives of those living with or affected by breast cancer.”  

Saha completed her undergraduate engineering studies in her native India, before earning both her master of applied sciences and PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Windsor.

The BRIGHT Run, founded in 2008, is an annual walk/run held at the Dundas Valley Conservation Area in September to raise money for breast cancer research. This year’s event on Sept. 11 will be virtual due to the ongoing pandemic. More information on the BRIGHT Run may be found at brightrun.ca.

“The announcement event for the BRIGHT Run chair may be watched here: https://youtu.be/QQQ1rxq9J4I

 

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