The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has selected Valentina Di Francesco as the Institute’s first chief data science strategist and director of its new Office of Genomic Data Science. In this role, she will provide leadership, strategic guidance and coordination for NHGRI activities, programs and policies in genomic data science. NHGRI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
For more than 7 years, Di Francesco has been the lead program director for the Computational Genomics and Data Science Program in the NHGRI Division of Genome Sciences, where she has played a key role in the program management of many genomics data science activities, including the Alliance of Genome Resources (AGR) and the Analysis, Visualization and Informatics Lab-space (AnVIL) initiative.
She is a member of the NHGRI Genomic Data Science Working Group of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research. Di Francesco has been serving as an interim special advisor to the NHGRI director on data science strategy since February 2021.
“Because genomic technologies now generate massive amounts of data, there is a critical need for a new NHGRI office led by an experienced data scientist to address and coordinate a wide range of data-focused issues across the Institute,” said NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. “Throughout the planning process that produced the 2020 NHGRI Strategic Vision, Valentina demonstrated sophisticated and forward-thinking insights about the key challenges in genomic data science for the Institute to focus on and, indeed, to be at the forefront of tackling these challenges for the entire field.”
Genomic data science is a field of study that enables researchers to use powerful computational and statistical methods to decode the fundamental information within DNA sequences and to apply that information to help understand genome function and implement genomic medicine. NHGRI’s research portfolio includes many projects and programs that focus on genomic data science. These efforts range from developing computational tools and methods for analyzing genomic data, to establishing and maintaining genomic data resources accessible to scientists and clinicians worldwide, to developing tools that facilitate clinical decision-making for genomic medicine.
Going forward, the new Office of Genomics Data Science will:
- Develop, promote, support and coordinate genomic data science activities across all parts of NHGRI.
- Serve as the coordinating hub for NHGRI involvement in trans-NIH genomic data science efforts and in national and international genomic data science activities.
- Provide guidance for NHGRI’s implementation of NIH data sharing policies, and promote the proper governance, stewardship and sustainability of the shared data.
“I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity and resources to make progress to address major challenges in genomic data science,” Di Francesco said. “We are at a transformative moment in the explosive rise of increasingly large, complex and diverse genomic datasets, analyses of which will require expertise in quantitative scientific disciplines, such as bioinformatics, computational biology, biostatistics and clinical informatics. I’m proud to found and lead a new NHGRI office that will help to attract and coordinate an interdisciplinary workforce to enable cutting-edge data science resources and tools for genomics research and genomic medicine.”
Di Francesco is currently involved in several trans-NIH data science activities and committees. She is one of the NIH leaders for the NIH Cloud Platforms Interoperability (NCPI) effort, including NHGRI’s AnVIL, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s BioData Catalyst, the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Research Data Commons and the Kids First Data Resource Center.
Di Francesco earned a master’s degree in mathematics with a focus on computer science and its applications from the University of Milan, Italy, as well as a master’s in statistics from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Before joining NHGRI in 2014, she was a senior program officer in the Office of Genomics and Advanced Technologies at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where she launched the Systems Biology, Structural Genomics and Bioinformatics Resource Centers programs. Prior to that, she worked on bioinformatics and computational projects for private research institutions and industry.
She has received several awards and recognitions, co-authored more than two dozen scientific papers and is named as an inventor on more than 150 patents.
Di Francesco will begin her appointment as the NHGRI Chief Data Science Strategist on Dec. 19, 2021.