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The AHEAD Institute

The Advanced HEAlth Data (AHEAD) Research Institute at Saint Louis University is a comprehensive center for data-driven innovation and research aimed at improving the health of individuals and populations. 

The institute brings together researchers from various fields and disciplines to help improve patient and population health, advance the quality of health care and decrease health care costs. The new institute will utilize and develop data resources; novel analytic methods; predictive modeling; machine learning; and integrated, wearable health devices and will collaborate with national research networks.

Making a Difference Through Data

The AHEAD Institute underscores the University’s commitment to addressing public-health issues and improving patient health outcomes  especially those that disproportionally affect poor and underserved communities  in alignment with the University’s Jesuit mission. To achieve this commitment, the AHEAD Institute relies on health care data for its truly remarkable potential to create new efficiencies for physicians and more positive outcomes for patients.

The Research

The AHEAD Institute specializes in creative and responsive solutions for scientific problems faced by academic, industry, government and nonprofit organizations. We combine academic rigor with responsive service to provide actionable results.

The AHEAD team comprises faculty, researchers, staff and doctoral students who are experts in statistics, medicine, public health, economics, program evaluation and research methodology. The research conducted at the AHEAD Institute covers a variety of disciplines and topics, including epidemiology, health services, quality improvement, health outcomes, economics, social determinants of health, health disparities and geospatial intelligence. 

Early examples of work undertaken by AHEAD researchers include:

  • Research on chronic prescription-opioid use and pain management
  • Studies to help reduce hospital re-admissions
  • Assessment of access to diabetes technologies in underserved populations

Here's What We're Up To:

Researchers with the AHEAD Institute are tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Tim Wiemken, Ph.D., Associate Professor with HCOR and Core Faculty with the AHEAD Institute, led a team in developing a time-series anomaly detection for mortality due to COVID-19.

Read More About How We're Tracking COVID-19

Data Warehousing

The AHEAD Institute warehouses several large databases available for research. Currently available databases include:

  • Nationally distributed sample of electronic health records, with a subset of linked medical claims data
  • Nationally representative sample of all-payer inpatient care
  • Nationally representative sample of all-payer pediatric inpatient care
  • Nationally representative sample of emergency department visits

AHEAD also can assist in identifying, obtaining and maintaining data to meet specific research needs. See below for instructions on requesting data.

Research Support Services

A researcher at SLU teaches a class of students
 

The AHEAD Institute provides professional scientific services at every stage of the research project life-cycle, including:

  • Study design and protocol development
  • Data collection (telephone, web-based and in-person interviewing; chart abstraction and database extraction)
  • Database design and management
  • Statistical programming and analysis
  • Interpretation and reporting
  • Communication of results

AHEAD Institute also offers other customized technical services related to study design and implementation, such as sample-size calculations and secure data storage and warehousing.

Our mission is to provide specialized technical assistance and management to investigators who share our commitment to improving the effectiveness, efficiency and equitability of the health care system.

Requesting Data and Research Support Services

To request research support services, please fill out our Data and Research Support Interest Form at https://redcap.link/ahead-interest-form with information regarding your research project. 

This statement of interest form provides the AHEAD Institute with a record of your request and enables the AHEAD Institute to ensure your needs are met.

Once the AHEAD Institute receives your completed request, the following actions will occur:

  • The AHEAD Director of Operations & Outreach processes all requests and will schedule a 30-60 minute research consultation meeting, which will include necessary AHEAD faculty and staff (i.e. data manager, biostatisticians, AHEAD core faculty) as applicable.
  • A scope of work (SOW) will be developed and approved by all parties following the meeting. The SOW will include:
    • Summary of the work request
    • Data domains required for project (if using AHEAD databases)
    • Forms that need to be signed and completed (i.e. data use agreements)
    • Estimated delivery date(s)
    • Location of data on restricted access shared drive, if applicable
    • Associated compensation, if applicable

Please allow three business days for your request to be processed and a member of the AHEAD Institute to contact you. For questions, please e-mail ahead@health.slu.edu

REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture)

The AHEAD Institute offers a free turn-key web-based research survey and data management application and infrastructure that provides secure data capture for research studies and the ability to invite survey participants external to SLU.

REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) is a secure web application for building and managing online surveys and databases. While REDCap can be used to collect virtually any type of data, it is specifically geared to support data capture for research studies. Find a detailed introduction on REDCap's website: http://project-redcap.org.

REDCap is designed to be completely self-service for investigators. The AHEAD Institute is responsible for ensuring the REDCap system remains operational, approving new accounts, and moving projects from development to production. For survey design and implementation help, investigators should refer to the REDCap training that is offered for free at https://projectredcap.org/resources/videos/. Alternatively, the AHEAD Institute can provide survey design, build, and implementation support for a fee of $120 per hour.

Creating Accounts

New Accounts

To create a new REDCap account:

  • Go to aws-redcap.slu.edu
  • Enter your SLU Net ID and password
  • On the next page, enter your first and last name, and your SLU email address
  • New accounts will be verified within 24 hours

After 24 hours, new users will be able to log into their accounts at aws-redcap.slu.edu.

External Collaborator Accounts

To request an account for an external research collaborator, the following tasks need to be completed by the SLU sponsor:

  • Submit a Guest Account request through the Service Now portal
  • Home > Submit Request > Accounts and Access > Guest Account Request
  • Select Z-06 visiting researcher as the guest type

After the SLU guest account request is processed and approved, the guest user will be able to sign up for access to REDCap following the steps for new accounts.

Creating a Project

 Users with a REDCap account can create new projects using the “+ New Project” tab and entering the following information:

  • Project title
  • Select "Research" as the purpose 
  • P.I. name
  • P.I. email
  • IRB number
  • Specify research type(s)
  • Select blank project or template (many researchers find the templates to be very helpful)
  • Click "Create Project"

Project Development

Once a project is created, it will be available on the "My Projects" tab. In this development phase, changes can be made as often as needed. Data entry should be tested in this phase with test data. Do not collect any real or live data in the development phase. Test (not live) data should be used to make sure the project functions as expected.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Projects must be moved to the production phase to start collecting live data. Any live data collected during the development phase will be lost when the project moves to production.

Project Production

To start collecting live data, users must move a project into the production phase by emailing ahead@health.slu.edu with either:

• A copy of the IRB approval letter, or
• Indication the project is quality improvement

Projects that do not have IRB approval or QI exception will not be considered for production.

Exporting Data

Data may be identifiable when entered into the REDCap application but users must ensure that data is de-identified before exporting the data, as per the user's respective IRB agreement. A video on how to de-identify your data is available within REDCap under “Data Exports, Reports, and Stats” within an existing project. Please review the SLU IRB website for more information regarding identifiable information.

REDCap Training

There are several short and concise videos located on the REDCap video resource page. These are excellent videos explaining how to use REDCap, as well as the different types of projects available to use.

REDCap Maintenance and IT Support

Maintenance

Occasionally, updates will need to be applied to the system. The standard planned maintenance window for REDCap is 9-11 a.m. CDT on the second Wednesday of every month. These times were selected based on system usage reporting to identify lower-usage periods.

IT Support

For technical questions or issues regarding REDCap, users can submit a request through the AskSLU sevice portal and complete the following steps:

  • Home > Sign In > Services > Research > REDCap > Request This Service
  • Your request will go directly to an AHEAD Institute Data Manager

Archiving Projects

Active projects will be reviewed on a quarterly basis for continued activity. If a project has been inactive for 365 days, it will be automatically archived without notice to the project owner.

 

Clinical Research Scholars Program

The Clinical Research Scholars Program is a comprehensive program to provide early stage clinicians with research training and support as they move towards becoming successful physician scientists. The program is designed to strengthen research skills, enhance research capacity and increase research productivity for highly motivated clinical faculty.

Program participants are paired with a research faculty mentor and a data analyst. Participants are expected to identify their five-year research agenda, develop research questions, work with their mentor and analytic team to identify appropriate sources of data and an analytic strategy, master writing skills for manuscripts and grant proposals and publish their work. Clinical faculty are provided with protected research time as part of their CRSP appointment and are expected to spend one day per week at the AHEAD Institute working on clinical or health-outcomes research. Faculty are evaluated annually to ensure they are meeting program goals for research productivity.

Program Benefits
  • Biostatistical support for study design, abstraction of study samples, data analysis and interpretation and presentation of results
  • Research mentorship and assistance developing a research agenda, study design and methodology, assistance with manuscript and grant preparation, and accountability
Applications

Applications are accepted beginning in April each year. Applicants are expected to provide: 

  • The completed application form
  • A statement of research interest describing the investigator’s area of research interest, prior research activities and research goals for the next three years
  • CV
  • A personal statement indicating how participation in the program will advance the investigator’s development as a researcher and a stated commitment to program requirements and activities

A list of the current CRSP fellows can be found below.

 

Our Team

Core Faculty
Leslie Hinyard
Leslie Hinyard, Ph.D., M.S.W.
Executive Director, AHEAD Institute
Chair, Associate Professor, Health and Clinical Outcomes Research
leslie.hinyard@health.slu.edu
 
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Jeffrey Scherrer
Jeffrey Scherrer, Ph.D.
Senior Director for Research, AHEAD Institute
Professor, Family and Community Medicine
jeffrey.scherrer@health.slu.edu
 
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Paula Buchanan
Paula Buchanan, Ph.D.
Director for Consulting Services, AHEAD Institute
Associate Professor, Health and Clinical Outcomes Research
paula.buchanan@health.slu.edu
 
View full profile

Timothy Wiemken
Timothy Wiemken, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Disease
timothy.wiemken@health.slu.edu
 
View full profile

Richard Grucza
Richard Grucza, Ph.D., M.P.E.
Professor, Family and Community Medicine
Professor, Health and Clinical Outcomes Research
richard.grucza@health.slu.edu

Sarah Gebauer
Sarah Gebauer, M.D., M.S.P.H.
Assistant Professor, Family and Community Medicine
sarah.gebauer@health.slu.edu

Chris Prener
Chris Prener, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology
chris.prener@slu.edu
View full profile

Kenton Johnston
Kenton Johnston, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Associate Professor, Health Management and Policy
kenton.johnston@slu.edu
View full profile

Our Staff
AHEAD Brainmark
Linda Waller
Business Manager
linda.waller@health.slu.edu

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Katie Sniffen, M.S., A.T.C.
Director of Operations & Outreach
katie.sniffen@health.slu.edu

paul hitz headshot
Paul Hitz
Director for Data Management & Informatics
paul.hitz@health.slu.edu

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Chad Kallal
Data Manager
chad.kallal@health.slu.edu

Joanne Salas
 Joanne Salas, M.P.H.
Director for Biostatistics
joanne.salas@health.slu.edu

Noor Al-Hammadi
Noor Al-Hammadi
Director for Prospective & Clinical Trial Analytics
Senior Biostatistician
noor.alhammadi@health.slu.edu

ahead brainmark
Timothy Chrusciel, M.P.H
Senior Biostatistician
timothy.chrusciel@health.slu.edu

Alex Zhang
Alex Zhang
Biostatistician
zidong.zhang@health.slu.edu

CRSP Fellows
Jennifer Brinkmeier
Jennifer Brinkmeier, M.D.
View full profile

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Zachary Hamilton, M.D.
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Lokesh Rukmangadachar
Lokesh Rukmangadachar, M.D.
View full profile

Alicia Barnes
Alicia Barnes, D.O., M.P.H.

Megan Ferber
Megan Ferriby Ferber, Ph.D
View full profile

Philippe Mercier
Philippe Mercier, M.D., Ph.D.
View full profile

Dhiren Patel
Dhiren Patel, M.D.
View full profile

A Big Idea

The origins of Saint Louis University’s AHEAD Institute lie in an internal Big Ideas competition to define university-wide strategic research priorities. SLU’s ability to invest in research was greatly enhanced in 2018 when Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield made a historic $50 million gift to accelerate research growth at the University and establish the SLU Research Institute. The AHEAD Institute is among the projects supported by the SLU Research Institute.

Learn More About the Big Ideas Competition