Data translates into discovery at the bench. Data informs care in the clinic. And data related to breast imaging is what Elizabeth Burnside, MD, MPH, and her team have been carefully gathering for the last decade.

During her time at UW Health, Burnside has used computer technology and a growing collection of clinical data to develop computer-based decision making tools for breast imaging to enhance breast cancer screening and diagnosis. By bringing physicians, computer scientists, and engineers together to further develop these tools, Burnside’s ultimate goal is to make important information accessible to care providers and reduce uncertainties that often exist in clinical practice.

“I really have a passion for integrating clinical care and innovation - linking computers and physicians to help women make choices about their health.”

I really have a passion for integrating clinical care and innovation - linking computers and physicians to help women make choices about their health.

Better data leads to more informed decisions

A radiologist specializing in breast imaging with an active clinical practice, the associate professor of radiology in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health provides all imaging and intervention procedures used for the early diagnosis of breast cancer.

The data Burnside is collecting - important patient characteristics like age, family history, and other clinical variables - is helping build the foundation for better tools and more informed discussions between primary care providers and women considering tests and screening options.

“When I arrived at UW in 2001, a foundation for my work existed, thanks to the hard work of others, on which we have since built. The grants we’ve received in the last five years have allowed me to transition this work into a multidisciplinary effort rather than just an imaging effort,” says Burnside. “We really need multidisciplinary interactions to make these projects succeed.

“As a radiologist, I know one piece of the puzzle, a surgeon knows another piece, an engineer knows another, and a computer scientist yet another; collectively, we can put together a full picture. Individually, each person is only going to be able to get so far, and I think that’s what a lot of the recent support has allowed us to do, to create a very powerful team that will make strides that no individual could make alone.”

Building a foundation for future research

With the help of another grant, the Collaborative Health Sciences Program from the Partnership Education and Research Committee, Burnside - alongside the clinical expertise of Lee Wilke, MD, Director of the UW Health Breast Center, and research acumen of Amy Trentham-Dietz, PhD, UW School of Medicine and Public Health population health researcher - hopes to contribute a foundation on which her colleagues can build upon, now and in the future.

“I feel like that’s one of my biggest goals, developing a methodology and infrastructure to create a virtuous cycle: continually using data to evaluate care, implement more effective systems based on this data, collect more data on the new system and further improve in the next iteration. I think that’s what individuals have been doing in areas other than medicine for a while. Now, with more organized medical data and advanced computers, we have the same opportunity in medicine, it’s very exciting.”