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Talents in Science: Abel Torres-Espin


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Dr Torres-Espin is Neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in the USA. We asked him about his life:

What are you currently working on?
Hospitals collect large amounts of data for every patient. However, this data is still not being utilised effectively for research. We intend to change that. When a patient who has, for example, suffered a spinal cord injury is admitted, the hospital precisely measures arterial blood pressure. We believe that the study of this data can be helpful in the treatment of other patients. We may even be able to predict the progression of the injury using these daily collected data.

How did you first become involved in research?
Everyone knows those children, and some adults, who are compelled to peer behind every door and into every drawer. I am one of them. My curiosity determines how I engage with the world. Research is an outlet for that curiosity. It gives me the opportunity to be surprised and fascinated anew every day. Also, I find myself interested in smart people, of which there are plenty in research.

What might your typical working day entail?
I switched from the lab to data science research three years ago. I have been spending about 90 percent of my working day in front of the computer ever since. My days consist of data research, programming, writing, reading, and many meetings with colleagues. I teach from time to time, too. And one must not forget the e-mails either, of course.

What are you particularly proud of?
I am of humble origins, the first academic in my family. It makes me proud that I was afforded the opportunity to study and contribute to research.

How do you unwind after a long day at work?
That depends. If I feel like being alone, I drink a beer, read, or indulge in creative programming. If I feel like company, I go climbing with friends or meet up for a drink.

Do you subscribe to a particular life philosophy?
Balance, love, and patience. I believe that extremism in life poisons our minds. That is why I try to approach things in a balanced way. If you think too much, nothing ever gets done. If you act too brashly, you are always busy without really thinking. I love what I do and the people who surround me. And I preach patience because I see life as a long journey that requires time.

Which dreams and goals do you pursue?
I want to facilitate the work of other researchers. That is my ultimate scientific goal. To achieve this, I develop methods that simplify the process of data collection and analysis. Data should become more accurate and comprehensible as a result. A professional dream is transparent and free access to science.

Dr. Torres-Espin has succeeded in obtaining a faculty position at the University of California San Francisco helped by funding from Wings for Life. In his project, he explores Big Data and machine learning, in which computers read a large amount of patient data and recognize patterns. These patterns could enable a more precise determination of the future condition of a patient. Read more here.