4 Questions with Dr. Maryan Zirkle, Executive Director of the BRAIN Commons
What is your education background?
I obtained a graduate degree in rehabilative and mental health counseling and began my career as a therapist working in general mental health and addiction with a focus on cognitive behavioral therapy. I then went on to obtain my medical degree with a focus on psychiatry and physical medicine and rehabilitation where I contributed to several research activities within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). During this time, I was introduced to the field of informatics and focused on leveraging electronic health record data to better understand diagnostics and treatments associated with PTSD and TBI, among other conditions. Through a VA sponsored Advanced Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biomedical and Clinical Informatics, I obtained an additional graduate degree from Oregon Health & Sciences University with a focus on clinical informatics. My experience and expertise afforded me the ability to be an integral part of the movement toward harnessing big data for improved patient care at organizations such as the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute and now Cohen Veterans Bioscience.
What attracted you to this field and motivated you to pursue a career in clinical informatics?
Even as a child, I’ve been fascinated with the inner workings of the mind. My curiosity evolved into a desire to understand mental health and the associated impacts and treatments of psychological disorders. The possibilities associated with the ability to collect and utilize vast amounts of information via emerging technology, all in support of improved delivery of healthcare services, attracted me to this field. The idea that I could be at the center of the healthcare and research industry movement to increasingly rely on data and technology to provide better treatments for patients, drove me to a career focused on optimizing access to and utilization of health data.
What was it about CVB’s mission that drew you to join the organization?
It is important to me that I contribute to the development of scalable research infrastructure that can enable the use of quality data to gain insight into disorders and disease and empower people to improve their health and wellbeing. CVB’s commitment to carving out a path toward value-added data sharing via the integration of diverse data and interoperability across data platforms drew me to the organization and to the BRAIN Commons.
What is something you think people should understand about the vision for the BRAIN Commons and how it can aid in advancing science?
The BRAIN Commons is a brain health community-driven research and discovery platform developed to support a better understanding of brain-based disease. It is designed to enable the use of research-ready data from a variety of sources and to aid in cross-cohort and cross-disease discovery for the brain health community. It’s important for people to understand that this is not just another data silo. The BRAIN Commons will host data and data analysis tools via a combination of pooled and federated mechanisms to provide a “one-stop shop” approach to the research infrastructure ecosystem.