Sarah Riehl's Weblog


Jul 25 2021

Eye of the Hurricane?

This past week has been pretty much about writing my sections of the CCSG Director’s Overview, mixed in with some BellRinger activities. I was at two BellRinger lunches on the CCC Podium last week, one of them on Wednesday for all comers, and the other on Thursday for the Department of Radiology. We are getting the word out! One of the really nice parts of hanging out on campus is the chance to run into colleagues and friends and just chat. I had almost forgotten how important these seemingly random encounters weave into a tapestry of conversations that both build community and get important work done. I didn’t realize how much I have missed that.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend. We drove to the beach on Friday and go home tonight. We were lucky to have great weather and shared it with family, and then on Sunday night had a lovely dinner with some friends. Not bad! But, even as we open up our campus, the looming specter of the COVID-19 delta variant is beginning to worry me. Is this pandemic really waning, or will the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” derail our plans to reopen our lives for good? Is the storm behind us, or are we merely in the eye of the hurricane, with more misery around the corner?

I have no inside information of any kind, but will not be surprised if we find it necessary to take additional precautions, even here in DC, in the weeks and months ahead. With any luck, enough vaccine refuseniks will change their minds as infections and serious illnesses swell, and we can prevent another surge.

Meanwhile, please join me in congratulating four of our colleagues on their recently awarded and amply deserved promotions. They are:

  • Suzanne O’Neill – promoted to Tenured Professor
  • Randi Williams – promoted to Assistant Professor
  • Luz Romero Sanchez – promoted to Assistant Professor
  • Ivana Peran – promoted to Assistant Professor

Please join me in congratulating Suzanne, Randi, Luz and Ivana on their accomplishments, with a special shout out to Suzanne, as her promotion recognizes her substantial career-long contributions in research, teaching and service. And the best is yet to come!

Stay safe and be well. This is not yet over.



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Jul 18 2021

Pandemic of the Unvaccinated

Anybody paying attention can see what is happening. The CDC director has described the current situation as the Pandemic of the Unvaccinated. The highly infectious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is tearing through the country. Lots of people are getting infected, but primarily only unvaccinated people are getting really sick. There is a simple, safe way to protect against illness, but some people just don’t want to be confused by the facts.

Meanwhile, life on campus is slowly stirring. I came into work two days last week, once just for meetings and the other for clinic. I have found it easiest to bring in my own lunch; perhaps that will change when classes are in session. I’ll be on campus at least two days this coming week, and certainly will be there on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. for the BellRinger lunch on the Podium near the CCC building. I hope to see you there! My training for BellRinger has been slowed over the past two weeks because of nagging plantar fasciitis of my right heel. It has been a slog. If I don’t improve soon, my plans for 100 miles are in jeopardy. I know I can do 25 miles, and hope to do at least 50.

I have spent the last few weeks on my draft of the Director’s Overview for the CCSG competitive renewal. The Overview draft is essentially finished, and I have also completed drafts of two (Space and Center Director) of the 6 Essential Characteristics descriptions. Four more to go… I hope to have everything done by August 1.

Have a great week. Most importantly, stay safe and be well.




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Jul 12 2021


Life after the time of coronavirus is ramping up. The virus is still with us, and will be for a long time, but those of us who are fully vaccinated are safe. Society has certainly opened up, and we are rapidly approaching full activity at Georgetown, though with appropriate precautions in place. Almost 70 percent of Americans have had at least one shot. Many of the remainder will not, and we should continue to educate and support healthy decision-making. However, some of the “refuseniks” are resolute in their convictions, and their minds won’t be changed. There will be no vaccines, and perhaps no masks to protect themselves or others. It is what it is.

What to do? I can only speak for myself, but I am comfortable resuming normal activities when they are permitted, as I am fully vaccinated. I try to follow the science. I might become infected, but am very unlikely to get very sick, even from the Delta variant. I am willing to take that chance. Pfizer states that boosters supercharge host immunity, but the data to date suggest that those of us who are fully vaccinated retain effective immunity against all of the prevalent coronavirus variants. Unvaccinated people will remain at risk; many will get infected and propagate the virus, which will spin out new variants. Some of these unvaccinated people will get sick, and some of them will die needlessly. Meanwhile, life for vaccinated people will continue, inconvenienced, but more or less undisturbed.

I am totally comfortable being with my vaccinated coworkers, family members and friends. I worry a bit about my unvaccinated grandchildren, though. To illustrate the point, one of my extended family members is a passionate anti-vaxxer; her views predate the pandemic. She will never allow herself to be vaccinated. She does not want to be confused by the facts, only by her anecdotal pseudo-truths. She is wonderful, sweet and wrong. It is what it is. However, we will not see her until our grandchildren are vaccinated; in the event she infected them and they got really sick, either directly or through us, I would not be able to forgive myself.

So, life is becoming “normalish.” I spent all day Wednesday in the office, though it’s still awfully quiet on the GUMC campus. There’s really no convenient place to get lunch, and we all wear masks. I’ll spend at least two days in the office this week, and will work from home the rest of the time. We visited family on Friday after I took care of some of my father’s estate documents and then we had a wonderful weekend with dear friends on Long Beach Island, one of the Philly area’s major beach destinations.

We no longer live in the coronavirus’ world, but now are living in a world of our own making, through the miracle of science. In time, the rest of the world will catch up, too. I hope it happens quickly. Coronavirus is and will be a part of our world for the foreseeable future, and we will accommodate it, but it’s time to get back to the business of living, working and making this world a better place. It’s time.

Don’t forget the BellRinger! The first weekly BellRinger lunch will be held on the Podium near the hospital this Wednesday starting at 11:30 a.m. Please stop by, have a bit to eat, and sign up for the ride.

Stay safe and be well.



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Jun 28 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 468

Life is slowly ramping up to normal. I spent some time on campus on Wednesday, and it was wonderful to run into colleagues and chat informally; that is one thing that will never be replaced by Zoom. While wandering around the Research Building, I was still struck by the quiet and the sparse foot traffic. I can’t wait until we are back to the usual hustle and bustle.

The week was highlighted by a presentation to COMCA, the Georgetown Board of Directors’ Committee on Medical Center Affairs. The agenda was compressed, but I provided a 10-minute overview and Marc Lippman provided a wonderful example of the value of thinking “outside the box” to address critical issues in breast cancer.

My presentation included a “vision for the future” slide that was linked to our strategic plan, abridged to address the moment and to give COMCA an insight into the ways we can make future progress. I’ve included the slide at the end of this blog post. If you don’t see yourself in it, please don’t fret. It was not meant to be exhaustive, but rather illustrative of the ways we can move forward, particularly in collaboration with MedStar Health and Hackensack Meridian Health.

Have a great week, and a wonderful July 4 holiday. My blog will return in two weeks.

Stay safe and be well.


A PowerPoint slide with text, transcription follows image

Text of slide is as follows:

Vision for LCCC’s Future

Expand High Volume Clinical Care to Blood Cancers
– Make LCCC the “place to go” for people with blood cancers in the DC region

Cellular lmmunotherapy
– LCCC to be the dominant provider of cutting-edge cell therapies (e g., BMT, CAR-T cells) in DC and NJ
– LCCC research will inform the design and analysis of cell therapies

Expand Portfolio of Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trials Connected to LCCC Science
– Offer tomorrow’s treatments today, further marking MH and HMH as “go-to” destinations for cancer care

Robust Technology Platforms to Support Cutting Edge Research
– Shared resources to promote biomedical research
– Computational biology/data science

Virtuoso Research with an Expanding Funding Base — Aim for $30M ADC Cancer-Focused Funding by 2025
– Research Programs

– Breast Cancer (BC)
– Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC)
– Molecular and Experimental Translational Research in Oncology (METRO)

– Research Themes

– Precision Medicine, Tobacco Control, Survivorship, Genomics, Tumor: Host and Tumor: Microbiome Interactions, lmmunotherapy, GI Cancers, Minority Health Disparities, Aging, Global Health

Community Outreach and Engagement
– Create a highly visible presence in DC and NJ with a focus on underserved minorities

Cancer Research Training and Education
– Cancer-focused training and mentoring from middle school through professorial appointments, with focus on underserved minorities

Everything Informed by a Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Georgetown’s Jesuit Principle of Cura Personalis


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Jun 21 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 461

I hope you enjoyed the long weekend and found a way to commemorate Juneteenth as well. We drove back to the beach this past Thursday evening, after my clinic, and have enjoyed a relaxing few days, punctuated by various work-related activities. Chief among them is work on my Director’s Overview for the CCSG competitive renewal. We have so many wonderful accomplishments to describe, and it will be a privilege to share the story of LCCC’s transformation in the overview.

I am continuing to ride my new bike. For Father’s Day, Harriet bought me a contraption that allows me to convert the bike into a stationary bike that I can ride inside or under the house when the weather is inclement. The more I ride, the more I like it. I am grateful to the BellRinger for stimulating me to rediscover the joys of a bike ride on the road. I hope I never forget it. I also hope you don’t forget to sign up to ride in the BellRinger and, better yet, to form a team.

On the COVID-19 front, this weekend we learned that 300 million doses have been administered in the United States in only six months. That is simply amazing, but even more gobsmacking is the fact that many of the remaining unvaccinated Americans have no intention of ever receiving their injections. I will never understand why anyone, faced with irrefutable data that the vaccine is overwhelmingly effective and quite safe, would choose to not protect themselves, their loved ones and their fellow citizens. While any vaccine refusenik has the right to make that choice, that right should not be confused with wisdom or truth. They are wrong, purely and simply. I hope that their decisions do not cost any of them their lives. It would be much safer to be an anti-vaxxer after we have achieved true herd immunity, and not when we are still in the midst of a viral pandemic with increasingly nasty variants emerging like clockwork.

Meanwhile, life on the GU campus is slowly stirring to life. I can’t wait to return to work, even if it is only for a few days per week at the beginning.

Have a great week. Stay safe and be well.




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Jun 14 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 454

Life in the time of coronavirus is beginning to revert to normal. No masks. Feels kinda normal… Vaccines work.

What a glorious weekend! We are at the beach, as is my new bicycle. We got here on Saturday afternoon, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do a 10-mile bike ride along Coastal Highway on Sunday. I had an absolute blast. My legs are well conditioned as a result of my stationary bike workouts at home, but my wrists and hands were not used to my prolonged death grip on the handlebars. No matter; I plan to continue riding as I gear up for the BellRinger ride in October. I am still looking for you to join my team; remember that I can provide up to $500 in vouchers to defray your fundraising commitment should you have difficulty in raising the money. As of today, we have 22 teams and 80 riders across the university, and have already raised over $200,000. Join me!

The past week was highlighted by an informal reception at the Glover Park Grill on Friday afternoon to say thank you and goodbye to Subha Madahavan, who joined us in 2008, and is moving on to a wonderful new opportunity at AstraZeneca. Subha, a genuine force of nature, made innumerable contributions to Lombardi during her time at Georgetown. I took the liberty of lifting some text from her farewell message (see below), in case you did not have a chance to read it. I am sure you will agree she leaves with a remarkable legacy.

Please join me in wishing nothing but the best for Subha as she embarks on the next stage of her career. It has been an absolute privilege to work with her, and it is nice to know that she will continue to be part of our work, albeit in an adjunct capacity, moving forward.

Stay safe and be well.


From Subha:

As I look back on my 12 years at Georgetown, I am struck by how far data science and informatics have come at the University, and how different the medical center looks in 2021 compared to 2009. I have been asked many times during the last month what I consider to be my most cherished accomplishments at Georgetown. Although I cannot answer that question comprehensively, given the number and variety of field-changing innovations occurring nationally and globally that our team has either led or participated in, I will mention a few here:

  1. We established the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics (ICBI) as a hub for cutting-edge research in biomedical informatics at GUMC.
  2. We envisioned and developed Georgetown Database of Cancer (G-DOC), one of the first web-based, now patented, Systems Medicine platforms used by over 2000 researchers from 48 countries to conduct cancer genomics research. On August 17th, 2018, then head of Biden Foundation and the Cancer Moonshot program, President Biden congratulated Lombardi for making a valuable brain tumor dataset freely available to the cancer research community through G-DOC. He not only posted about this on Twitter but also placed a personal phone call to our Cancer Center.
  3. We were an integral part of the joint team between Georgetown University and Medstar health that led the establishment of a data sharing and a Business Associate Agreement that enabled institution-wide secondary use of patient data for research purposes. This agreement has been the foundation that catalyzed multiple funding opportunities for the University including but not limited to, Georgetown Howard Universities CTSA, Breast and Colon Cancer Family Registries, In Silico Centers of Excellence for Cancer Genomics, Clinical Genomics Resource, Big Data to Knowledge Consortium (BD2K), and Clinical Proteomics Tumor Consortium.
  4. In partnership with UIS, we implemented and maintained the REDCap clinical data platform which supported over 100 investigators across 270 projects in multiple areas — biospecimen repository (55%), translational medicine (22%), clinical research/experimental therapeutics (9%), quality of life improvement (9%), behavioral and psychological research (5%). Novel high impact projects supported through this platform include the study of HIV transmission dynamics in Washington DC, the lung screening program, tobacco and health clinical study, DecideText, mobile cessation support for Latino smokers and a study to develop new treatments for language disorders.
  5. We co-developed and launched a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the edX platform titled “Demystifying Big Data” with >6,000 students registered across the globe.
  6. We led the University team with collaborators across medical and main campus in various data science challenges including NCI DREAM, Kaggle, COVID data challenge, PrecisionFDA and many others.
  7. Our capacity to develop highly usable informatics and data science methods and tools in collaboration with the basic, translational and clinical research communities is reflected in our participation in the Global Alliance for Genomics Health (GA4GH), The Cancer Genome Atlas, ClinGen, NCI Data Commons, R2D2 COVID consortium and many others.
  8. Our commitment to open science to improve reproducibility and reuse is witnessed by 56 active software development projects on ICBI’s GITHUB ( These toolsets include components of G-DOC, CDGNet for cancer genomics networks, eGARD for natural language processing of unstructured research and clinical texts, SNP2SIM for computation simulation of protein binding, ViGen for viral genome analysis and CINIndex for assessing chromosomal aberrations.
  9. We developed novel artificial intelligence methods to derive insights from health data for detecting suicidal ideation among veterans, predicting opioid overuse in surgical patients, and extracting immune-related adverse events in cancer patients treated with immunotherapies.
  10. Partnering with Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, we launched the Cloud-First initiative for machine learning-driven biomedical discovery at the University.
  11. In collaboration with BGE, we launched a new graduate program in health informatics and data science (HIDS) to educate the next generation of data scientists who will transform how medicine is practiced and research is conducted. In spite of the global pandemic, the graduate program continues to attract students from around the globe.
  12. Our annual Big Data in Biomedicine Symposium attracted over 300 participants each year from academia, federal agencies and private industry since its launch in 2012.
  13. Above all, we recruited and trained >25 data scientists and informaticians who have thriving careers in academia, government or industry.



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Jun 07 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 447

Summer has arrived a bit early. Harriet and I drove up to northern New Jersey for a wedding this weekend and spent time with Dave, Kelly and their kids. Their son Clark is now over 3 months old and is doing wonderfully well, showing no obvious effects from his major heart surgery shortly after his birth. His robust health is a true testament to the miracles of modern medicine; without that surgery, he would be nothing but a memory by now.

A long ride home from New York City on Sunday was notable for the traffic and the massive lines at rest areas on the New Jersey Turnpike for gas and food. Based on what I saw, we will know pretty soon whether the current levels of immunization indeed have minimized community spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, back at work, things are as busy as ever. We now have less than a year for the submission of our CCSG competitive renewal, and we are busy implementing our strategic plan and preparing our section write-ups for ongoing review. It may be hot and hazy, but there will be no lazy days this summer.

Stay safe and be well.



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May 31 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 440

Life — almost normal — returning?

As the threat of COVID-19 continues to recede for those of us who are fully vaccinated, this holiday weekend was about as good as it could be in the face of cold, windy, rainy days. We are taking an extra day at the beach, though I’ll be working from there on Tuesday.

I saw a haunting image on the news today, of a woman and her infant, sprawled on a blanket covering the grave of her husband, a casualty of war who almost certainly never lived to meet his baby. It reminded me once again that Memorial Day is not just about beaches and barbecues. People have lost their lives for our freedom and the American way of life, and we would do well to remember this, each in our own ways, and commemorate the sacrifices that have allowed us the privileges of peaceful, safe family gatherings in the midst of plenty.

Stay safe and stay well.



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May 24 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 433

I am finishing up a fabulous vacation week, punctuated by only a few work-related responsibilities. I had forgotten what it feels like to be renewed and refreshed. Even as the pandemic wanes (it is by no means over), I am struck by its less obvious and insidious effects, such as the blurring of boundaries between work and life. Maintaining those boundaries has always been a challenge for me. My workday ordinarily ends at about 10 p.m. or so, if not later, but somehow work during the pandemic has taken a fresh toll on me, perhaps because there have been no breaks provided by dinners, trips and conferences. I feel most fortunate to have had important work to do, but taking a bit of time off is really refreshing!

Our family joined us on Friday to celebrate my birthday — all the adults are fully vaccinated, so it felt pretty normal. You may have read that the Delaware beaches are like the Wild West with respect to pandemic precautions, and that is more or less true in Dewey Beach, but we are further south, and when we wander into town about half the adults are still wearing masks outdoors and nearly everyone wears masks indoors, except when they are eating.

Birthdays are like mile markers on the road. Nothing really changes, but they offer opportunities for reflection. All I can say is that I am one very lucky guy. Thank you for being part of the rich tapestry that makes my life so rewarding.

Stay safe and be well.



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May 17 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 426

I am writing this week’s blog early because I am on vacation this week.

Life in the time of coronavirus is drawing to a close. Per CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people need only wear masks under certain circumstances, and life as we used to know it is resuming, albeit with modifications. The CDC’s announcement about masks is general guidance, but each municipality, state and organization, including Georgetown, will determine how best to apply it within their environment.

I look forward to it, as I am sure you do, though I remain curious as to which pandemic adaptations will endure. Outdoor restaurant seating, Zoom and related meeting approaches, new ways of shopping and an appreciation of home all seem to be here to stay in one form or another. How we balance work and home offices will be interesting as well.

Clearly, vaccinations have been decisive, and represent a triumph of science over ignorance, and of facts over spin. Just think of it; we went from lockdown to reopening in only 14 months because we were scientifically prepared by people doing pretty fundamental research, technologically adept and, despite political and cultural resistance on many fronts, capable of mounting a remarkable vaccine rollout in a few short months. When histories of this time are written, this may well be the enduring headline.

If you have not yet been vaccinated, please do so. It may save your life.

Stay safe and be well.



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