Announcing the Johns Hopkins CRC Convergence Program

With generous support from the Schnabl Family and in loving memory of Fred Schnabl

CRC Convergence Program logo

The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins is excited to announce the CRC Convergence Program, a new program advancing colorectal cancer data science research through the Colorectal Cancer Research Center of Excellence (CRC COE) and the Johns Hopkins Convergence Institute. Enabled by a generous donation from the Schnabl Family, this program will provide teams of researchers from diverse scientific backgrounds with the opportunity to analyze real-world data to advance colorectal cancer treatment.


Marco Schnabl, a CRC Center of Excellence fundraising team member since 2019, was inspired to make a philanthropic gift that established the Schnabl Family Fund in 2021 to support colorectal cancer research at Johns Hopkins after his father passed away from the disease. In 2023, the Schanbl family wanted to further support colorectal cancer research by funding a project directly. Mr. Schnabl conferred with Dr. Nilofer Azad and Dr. Elana Fertig, who understood his desire to make a tangible contribution to cancer research. Through this effort, the CRC Convergence Program was born.

The Johns Hopkins Convergence Institute was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee who partnered with Dr. Elana Fertig to foster convergence science to target cancer specifically. In medicine, convergence is defined as the integration of life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and information sciences. The institute’s mission is to accelerate progress in the fight against cancer by building, training, and catalyzing convergence teams who will utilize their diverse scientific disciplines and technologies to foster innovation.


In her leadership roles as Associate Director of Quantitative Sciences for the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer and co-director of the Convergence Institute, Dr. Fertig had the idea to build up transdisciplinary team science from the earliest stages of the Convergence Institute’s founding. Quantitative Sciences has a long history of building and training the next generation of transdisciplinary scientists. Drs. Sarah Wheelan and Luigi Marchionni have moved on from Johns Hopkins, but they were integral faculty members who founded the division’s educational initiatives, namely the Practical Genomics Workshop, which teaches hands-on sequencing data analysis for biologists and clinical investigators. The program has run for twelve years and is now under the leadership of Dr. Frederick Tan of the Carnegie Institution.


Dr. Fertig, with help from Dr. Azad, created a team of senior researchers who will oversee a weeklong CoFest! (similar to hackathons with a strong emphasis on building collaborations). Drs. Harihan Easwaran, Yuba Bhandari, Frederick Tan, and Allissa Dillman from BioData Sage, will bring together early-career clinicians, biologists, mathematicians, and data scientists to answer key questions related to colorectal cancer. In the inaugural year, participants worked with data provided by Dr. Easwaran’s lab to establish approaches aimed at creating a personalized assessment of the risk of developing colon cancer. The CoFest! analyzed various types of molecular data from colon cancer and its precursors, called polyps, to address these goals. 


When asked what excites Dr. Fertig the most about this program, she said: 

“It is the chance to get a SKCCC dataset with a clinical problem introduced to a broad audience of researchers who can then look at the problem in new ways in order to solve it. The hands-on project in this program provides a truly unique training opportunity in team science that will empower the next generation of scientists to tackle transdisciplinary, grand-challenge cancer research challenges.”

The leadership team kicked off the event on January 9th, beginning the week-long CoFest! with members of the CRC COE campaign team in attendance. Researchers are often secluded from the funders who enable their work. Dr. Tan noted that “it is truly inspiring to hear testimony from patient advocates like Mr. Schnabl.” Participants will meet monthly to continue discussing and interpreting their work, and finally present their findings at the annual Convergence Symposium On May 29th, 2024.

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