This month’s Employee Spotlight is on TREND Community’s Product Manager, Tim McLerran, DO. Tim blends his passion for improving the lives of those with rare disease with his experiences in data engineering and data science, including natural language processing.
Tim graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Westminster College and then completed a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree from the University of New England. He co-founded Medical Intelligence One, Inc (Mi1), to develop novel approaches to integrating technology in medicine. One of the products Mi1 developed was a rare disease search tool that outputs possible diseases based on sign and symptom inputs. After Mi1 closed, Tim made the rare disease search tool open source so anyone could continue to develop and use it.
Tim’s combined medical training, passion for patient care, and knowledge of data had substantial overlap with TREND’s mission.
“As a physician, I sometimes had patients with rare diseases, and I am sad to say that I probably had a number of patients with undiagnosed rare diseases. After leaving clinical practice, I co-founded a company where I led product development of a tool to help diagnose rare diseases.”
Tim met with members of the TREND team, and the seeds of collaboration were set.
“I had a great time with them, and I was really impressed by the data TREND was generating. I could see a lot of good that could be done with their data and their technology…. I thought, I would love to do a good turn for this community if I can. That really motivated my work on my previous company’s rare disease search tool, and it made TREND a very attractive place to go.”
Tim’s innovative approaches to diagnosing and supporting those with rare diseases trace back to his childhood passions.
“When I was a kid, Thomas Edison and other inventors were my greatest heroes. I was always curious how things worked, so I would take things apart to find out. I also loved to imagine how I could build things to fulfill real needs, just like my hero Thomas Edison did.”
The innovation and invention evident since childhood have continued to be cultivated by modern mentors.
“When I ran my own company, my co-founders, Brendan Dunphy and Dr Anthony Chang, were incredible mentors. Brendan is an expert at bringing emerging technologies to market, and Anthony is a very well-respected leader in the field of artificial intelligence in healthcare. Building a company side by side with them taught me a tremendous amount about entrepreneurship, digital product development, and life in general.”
When not contemplating and building tools to aid the rare disease community, Tim enjoys explorations with family (including his biological and furry children).
“I love going on adventures with my family. My daughter and I recently explored Rum Runner’s Cave, which was used during the Prohibition Era to smuggle alcohol into San Diego. We have been on a number of road trips as a family, too. I hope to start taking them sailing when my kids get a little older and can swim well. I should also give a shout-out to my border collie mix, Sofia, and my spicy little terrier mix, Henri, who make sure I get outside every day.”
Tim has lived all across the country, in his own version of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”—but home is anchored in Virginia and San Diego.
“I was born and raised in Virginia, and some lines of my family have lived in Virginia for as long as 18 or 19 generations. Virginia definitely feels like home, but after spending a number of years in San Diego with my own young family, I am starting to feel at home in both places. Due to various stages of training, I have also lived in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Oregon.”
It’s hard not to be inspired by Tim’s vision of a brighter future through technology, and with minds like his set to the task, that vision is closer to a reality.
“I’m really interested in the ways artificial intelligence can help us make sense of the dizzying complexity of biological systems like the human body. I’m excited to see what happens when we have enough population-scale data to teach artificial intelligence the meaning that connects rich sources of data, such as the genome, the metabolome, microbiome, EHR [electronic health record] data, and social media data. We are on the verge of a new and much better era of medicine, if we can continue to make the progress we have been making.”