Boosting research in digital epidemiology and e-health

Interview with Dr Guy Fagherazzi

20th September 2019

5 min read                                                                                                                              

Boosting research in digital epidemiology and e-health

Interview with Dr Guy Fagherazzi

 In June 2019, Dr Guy Fagherazzi was appointed Research Leader of the “Digital Epidemiology and E-health hub”, a new strategic position at LIH’s Department of Population Health.

Having already co-authored more than 200 publications, Dr Fagherazzi has a strong expertise in diabetes research as well as in the analysis of large population-based studies making use of digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) methods. Formerly senior researcher at Inserm, the French national aims to develop a transversal research axis at LIH around the hot research topics of digital epidemiology and e-health.

In an interview with the Communication Unit, Dr Fagherazzi tells about his career path, scientific interests and research plans.

Could you tell us about your educational and professional background?

First trained in Mathematics, I hold a double Master’s degree: a Master of Science in “Modelling in Clinical Pharmacology and Epidemiology” from the University of Rennes jointly obtained with a Master’s level engineering degree in “Statistics and Life Sciences” from the National School for Statistics and Information Analysis (ENSAI).

In 2011, I was awarded a PhD in epidemiology from the Paris South-Paris Saclay University. During my PhD, I specialised in the field of diabetes epidemiology, studying the lifestyle factors that increase disease risk in women. I had access to data from large French and pan-European population-based cohort studies and started getting interested in e-health tools to collect research data.

During my postdoctoral period, I had the chance to spent two research stays as a Visiting Scientist in the Diabetes and Population Health Unit at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, one of the most renowned research units in the field of diabetes epidemiology.

In 2013, I accepted a senior research position at the Centre of Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in Paris. During six years, I had been coordinating a team of four to five people on diabetes epidemiology and AI application in epidemiology. Amongst other projects, I have been the Principal Investigator of the World Diabetes Distress Study, an open research initiative on the use of AI at the service of diabetes research.I have also initiated several public-private partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and e-health start-ups on the use of AI or connected devices in epidemiology.

Why are you passionate about e-health?

E-health, meaning the use of digital technology for monitoring and improving health, is currently a buzzword.

I have always been interested in new technologies and recognised during my research experience that digital tools have a big potential to change the life of patients.

This is true in particular for patients living with diabetes. With wearables and connected medical devices, people living with diabetes can monitor their glucose level and health status every day. These measurements generate large amounts of data that are very useful for science, especially if they can be linked to further data on lifestyle and psychological factors for example. Content on social media generated by people with diabetes is also highly valuable to better understand what matters to them in “real life”, how they cope with the disease and how they feel. Undoubtedly, the data generated online by an individual – what I call the “digitosome” - provides new possibilities for public health studies and interventions.

I like to work at the interface between digital epidemiology, data science and clinical research. For me the biggest challenge is now to develop innovative approaches where digital data are combined with other omics, biological and clinical data to deeply characterise the patients.

Why did you decide to come to Luxembourg and join our institute?

I noticed that digital health is becoming a top priority in Luxembourg. At LIH, I find a dynamic research environment leaving room for new developments.

My objective by joining LIH is to change of scale and contribute to the overall scientific strategy of the institute. Firstly, I aim to assist the Department of Population Health in shifting from traditional approaches to modern innovative ways of analysing epidemiological data, thus enabling it to conduct digital epidemiology.

Secondly, although my work largely focuses on diabetes epidemiology, my research axis shall be transversal, meaning that other research groups working in the field of cancer, inflammation or neurodegenerative diseases can benefit from the developments and outcomes.

I also see multiple opportunities to establish research collaborations with other local research institutions, for example with data science teams at the University of Luxembourg or with researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) for projects with a socio-economic dimension, as well as public-private partnerships with the rich HealthTech ecosystem in Luxembourg.

What will be your research focus and first assignments at LIH?

As mentioned before, my focus will be on digital epidemiology.

To advance towards personalised medicine, there is a need for a more extensive characterisation of patients living with diabetes and other chronic diseases.

My research aims at leveraging the potential of digital data and AI methods for the prevention of complications in patients. My endeavours shall allow to identify complex digital signatures and digital biomarkers associated with risk of disease-related complications.

One of my first assignments will be to provide the proof-of-concept for efficient data collection by a smartphone app. The app is currently being developed by the Department of Population Health. At first, it will be tested in the context of diabetes to be later on extended to other diseases. I also plan to launch the development of a Digital Health Data Lake, a data infrastructure comprising very diverse types of data. The app and the data infrastructure will be key to implement CoLive Diabetes, an international digital cohort study composed of at least 50,000 people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes recruited both in Luxembourg and worldwide and that will be followed over a period of 10 years.

Will you have a research team to support these projects?

Yes, I am working on a grant application for foreign principal investigators to set up a research group. The focus of the group will be on deep digital phenotyping. In France, I had been supervising a number of PhD candidates. I will be happy to integrate doctoral candidates into my future team to contribute to the institute’s mission of training the next generation of researchers.

How will your research impact on the health of the Luxembourg population?

I am confident that my research will have a direct impact on the prevention of chronic disease complications as well as on disease management.

If we understand the real life, behaviour and psychology of patients, we will be able to develop more personalised and timely interventions and prevention programs, reduce the risk of complications and improve the quality of life.

A last, more personal question. What do you like to do in your leisure time?

Unsurprisingly, I am a geek for new electronic gadgets. I also play basketball since the age of eight, collect vinyl records of different music styles and like to spend time with my kids of course.


Dr Guy Fagherazzi

Research Leader of the “Digital Epidemiology and E-health hub”

Department of Population Health