Meet Ben Holmes

2022/12 6 mins read


Tell us about your road to Syapse?

I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences and I wanted it to be something that would broadly benefit people. I have degrees in microbiology and computer science and was thinking I was going to be a lab technician working on vaccines or something in that industry. I quickly found out that I hate lab work so that chapter of my life turned into working in computer science. I started making tools for labs and helping them expand their abilities. I was able to help them access new sources of data they hadn’t been able to before and also allowed them to be able to manipulate their data in ways they hadn’t been able to before. From there I applied those skills in a number of ways including the verification of DNA testing for the justice system, a human microbiome company, the Air Force, and fraud detection, among others. 

About two and a half years ago (as of 2020) my mom was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer, which is extremely rare. She was given six months to live and after she passed I said to myself, it's time to start doing what I want to do. I started to look into cancer research companies, and found Syapse.

What motivates you day to day? 

First, an interesting problem. I love working on difficult things.

Second, is having people that I enjoy working with. I love the team I have around me. And third, an overhwhelming sense my work is making a real impact. That's been a huge bonus at Syapse versus my last jobs. I loved the teams at my other jobs and the problems were challenging. But at the end of the day, those jobs were not in areas that I was passionate about.

How do you explain your job to your family?

The elevator pitch of my job is, some people can afford personalized health care where they will have medical professionals really digging into their files. What we've learned over the past decade or so is that in cancer that can make a big difference. 

If you have somebody looking into the details of your genetic profile and of your clinical history and working to find the best treatment for you, that's a much better outcome than just the standard treatment for whatever cancer type you have. We are trying to make it so that anybody who enters the system can get that kind of personalized care. We're finding out ways to automate that kind of care and attention. 

What has surprised you the most since joining Syapse?

I thought I was going to be doing all mathematically based machine learning models and so I've been surprised at the extent to which my NLP background was used and the extent to which It actually has ended up working. We have a unique set of data that I hadn’t been able to leverage before joining Syapse. 

The breadth of what I’ve been able to work on has been really surprising. I had in mind a particular set of things that I wanted to do, and I'm doing them. But in addition, the NLP piece has become really important in my time here.

Is there a particular project that you’re excited about? 

The two projects that I'm really interested in right now are the Natural Language Processing work because that's been my priority, as well as our mortality validation. That consists of working to come up with the Syapse way of taking the data we have and building a machine learning model around it. Especially with our NLP work, we’re doing things that haven’t really been explored in the industry yet. We’re finding a niche space within precision medicine by creating a lightweight, easy to implement algorithms that can take in data and provide insights. 

It’s been two years. What has changed and what are you most excited about? 

The neat thing is, I am excited about completely different things now than I was a year or two ago. We’ve already accomplished a lot of the things I was excited about previously and now I’m seeing my work pay off. It’s really exciting to have put the roots down and now watch the projects grow. We’ve published on the mortality score and we're using that model to get other metrics about patient care. Right now, I'm excited about our time series models for prediction to provide early prediction of adverse events for patients. I did some early work and proof of concept and then Syapse has been able to bring on other people to help support the work I had done and help automate it. That has been a really rewarding process to be a part of. I love that I feel like I’m building a toolbox for both the company internally and our customers. 

What would get someone super excited about joining the team?

We're not just doing speculative research that will be used down the road. We're building things that we're going to see other healthcare professionals and companies start to use right away and we're going to start to see them used to help patients. I think about what we do as, rather than being the carpenters ourselves, we build the hammers. We are building tools that help equip others to build what they need at scale. What’s exciting about what we do and what motivates myself and our team is the idea of building a toolkit. It’s a mix of research and application. We get to make really innovative tools that don’t exist anywhere else. While we may not be directly involved with the patients, we are creating tools that doctors and other healthcare professionals use to advance patient care.

If you could become an expert in anything instantly, what would it be?

Right now, I would love to be an expert at French. I tutor African refugees that have been displaced and a lot of them speak French and I don't really speak any. I find it really rewarding because most of our education system places you in school based on your age and not by educational background. Most of the people I tutor speak very little English so I’m glad I’m able to help them in that way but it would be so helpful if I was able to speak French. 

What's your go to book and TV show at the moment?

A longtime favorite book of mine has been the Alchemist. I'm a big fan of that. For a TV show, I have really been enjoying the Great British Baking Show.

Other than French, is there anything else you’re learning right now?

The obvious are French and baking. I’m also learning about machine learning models that I’ve never used before. My wife and I are doing a mindfulness retreat soon so that will also be a big learning experience. 

If you could switch roles with anyone at Syapse for a day, what role would you choose?

I like interacting with different people and partners that I don't see as much as in my position and so I think I’d like to try something more customer facing. I’d love to step into Tony Loeser (Chief Technology Officer) shoes.