The Childhood Cancer Blog

Data-Driven Cures for Cancer (Meet the Women who Integrate Science, Engineering, and Design)

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By: Jen O’Malley

Did you know that 70% of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) Childhood Cancer Data Lab team are currently women? Advancing our mission to empower childhood cancer researchers with knowledge, data and tools would not be possible without their expertise. 

Established in 2017, the Data Lab complements the rich ecosystem of pediatric cancer research supported by ALSF by providing open source tools and training to pediatric cancer researchers. The Data Lab fosters collaboration internationally, by leveraging the incredible expertise of their internal team made up of leaders in the field of data management, user experience design, programming and analysis. 

“As a data analyst, self-taught programmer, and former trainee, I love to consider what would have made past-me a more effective researcher and work with our talented team every day to get closer to realizing that for the pediatric cancer research community,” said Jaclyn Taroni, PhD, who heads the Data Lab.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are excited to introduce you to these women who integrate science, engineering, and design to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by the pediatric cancer research community today! 

Jaclyn N. Taroni, PhD
Director of the Childhood Cancer Data Lab

Dr. Jaclyn Taroni joined the Data Lab in 2018 as the team's first full-time scientist and has served as Director since 2021. Dr. Taroni established our training workshop program and has played an instrumental role in every Data Lab project to date. She served as the scientific lead for, was one of the main organizers of the Open Pediatric Brain Tumor Atlas (OpenPBTA) project, and has guided the development of the Single-cell Pediatric Cancer Atlas (ScPCA) Portal. Dr. Taroni supports the entire Data Lab team and leads our mission.

Deepa Prasad
User Experience (UX) Designer

Deepa Prasad has been the UX Designer at the Data Lab since 2017. She leads studies to gain a deeper understanding of the behaviors, processes, attitudes and barriers of pediatric cancer researchers. She uses these insights to guide the development of our products and services and to make improvements as needed. She designed the interfaces for and the ScPCA Portal — tools which have been used by researchers across the globe. Her contributions ultimately help researchers use data more effectively!

Ally Hawkins, PhD
Data Scientist

Dr. Ally Hawkins joined the Data Lab in 2021 as a Data Scientist. Since then, she has trained hundreds of childhood cancer researchers to better analyze their own data and has played an essential role in developing the ScPCA Portal. Dr. Hawkins helped create scpca-nf, the open source pipeline behind the Portal, which uniformly processes data and makes it immediately useful to researchers. She has collaborated with other labs to improve their own data processing pipelines and to help them work more efficiently. Dr. Hawkins is dedicated to helping others bring their research to the next level!

Stephanie J. Spielman, PhD
Data Scientist

Dr. Stephanie Spielman started her journey with the Data Lab as an external collaborator, assisting with training workshops and offering her time and skills to the OpenPBTA project. In 2022, she officially joined the team as a Data Scientist! Dr. Spielman helped lead the OpenPBTA until it was completed. She now contributes to the ScPCA and teaches researchers valuable data science skills at our workshops. She developed much of the material for our reproducible research practices course, which has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community.

Nozomi Ichihara
Front-End Engineer

Nozomi Ichihara joined the team as a front-end engineer in 2022. She collaborates across teams to conceptualize, develop, and maintain products that directly benefit researchers. She helps enhance the usability and performance of our existing tools by improving the code quality and making our applications more accessible for users everywhere. The pressing needs of the childhood cancer research community are at the center of her work as a Data Lab engineer!

Each of these women have been instrumental in creating remarkable data resources for the pediatric cancer research community. Today, and always, we celebrate women across the world whose contributions are moving science forward. 

The Childhood Cancer Data Lab (Data Lab) was established by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) in 2017. ALSF is a leader in filling critical gaps in pediatric cancer research funding. The Data Lab was founded with the mission of empowering pediatric cancer experts poised for the next big discovery with the knowledge, data and tools to reach it, complementing the rich ecosystem of pediatric cancer research supported by ALSF.

Biomedical research is increasingly data-intensive – large, complex collections of data that can be used to answer key scientific questions are generated by labs and clinics across the globe. There is no guarantee that anyone besides researchers generating the data can effectively use it, as the data exists in different formats. Many pediatric cancer researchers also do not have expertise in analyzing large datasets. 

The Data Lab is tackling these challenges by developing free-to-use, open source tools that make vast amounts of usable data available quickly, efficiently and affordably. They help researchers build analytical skills through training workshops and they support opportunities for scientific collaboration.