Meet our team: Jordi Valls
Jordi Valls is a Postdoctoral Researcher and experienced bioinformatics in the field of genomic analysis.
At MedBioInformatics, Dr Valls is currently working on RISKHUNT3R, a European H2020 Project. He is involved in characterising/identifying the adverse effects of chemical compounds on cohorts/target segments depending on their genetic information and variability, through the use of different network biology tools.
ABOUT DR VALLS
Dr Valls performed his PhD thesis in Bioinformatics at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, obtaining the Cum laude mention in 2021.
His area of research was the analysis of genomic variability of the Spanish population. The result of this study was a source that includes the genetic profile of the Spanish population. This source is useful in precision and personalized medicine, to detect new genetic variants of complex diseases such as diabetes and heart failure. It allows to identify potential disease-risk variants in the Spanish population and to generate preventive treatments to delay the disease progression in patients.
Before working in MedBioInfomatics, he worked at Barcelona Skin Genomics where he developed a database of active principles extracted from plants to develop personalized treatments for a wide range of skin diseases and skin ageing, using inflammation markers such as interleukins.
Meet Jordi Valls
What are your main responsibilities at MedBioInformatics?
My main responsibility in MedBioInformatics is the RISKHUNT3R European project. I’m developing different network models to answer questions about drug toxicity in humans, such as which paths are involved in steatosis progression after consuming a particular drug. Besides that, during the next few months, I will be involved in including additional data in DISGENET plus, mainly large genetic variants produced by aberrant genomic rearrangements.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished a machine learning model focused to re-purpose the drug utilities in diseases. This model is useful to find new treatments using currently existing available drugs and discover new applications of these drugs for diseases that they were not designed for.
I’m involved in generating a new machine learning algorithm to predict the side effects of compounds after the human consumption. This is to help healthcare professionals to choose the best treatment for each patient, considering the possible drug’s contraindications and the patient’s health records.
Which part of your job is the most interesting?
The most interesting part of my job is the way I can combine different data types into biological networks, that enables to better understand the biology behind different human tissues, and how these tissues can be altered after drug consumption. MedBioInformatics Solutions allowed me to expand my insights into human biology from many points of view, constructing different biological networks with different layers of information, obtaining a complete picture of what is happening in different human tissues.
What made you interested in genomics?
I accidentally got into Genomics because I focused on Ecology during my Biology degree. My interest in human biology was piqued when I worked with the dermatologist Ignacio Umbert. He showed me the importance to evaluate each patient in detail, before designing a treatment. Then, during my PhD, I found the importance of genetic variants in humans, and how little changes in our genome can drive big effects on our health. This fascinated me and therefore, since that moment I have wanted to solve problems associated with human health using big data and, more specifically from a genomic point of view.
Which is the area that you would like to develop your professional career on? Why?
I would like to develop my professional skills in the industry, in order to directly help people and the patient’s needs. I chose this sector because the philosophy of the research world, in spite of its importance, is to publish papers and this is not enough for me. I have the need to produce final products that can be translated into the real world.
Which skills did you develop during your PhD that are applicable to your working life?
The main skill I developed was programming. When I finished both my degree and master’s, I didn’t know how to use bioinformatic tools to solve biological questions. During my PhD, I have learned different programming languages, such as Python, R and Bash, allowing me to apply insights to many problems involved in my current job. My genomic background allowed me to design new strategies to analyze the effect of drugs on humans.
Tell us about the tools you currently use… (software, etc.)
This question is a bit hard to answer because there are many tools for many purposes. But nowadays, I use a tool called Multiscale interactome, which is used for drug repurposing. This tool helps me a lot to know how I can develop my own strategy to find additional drug indications. On the other hand, I also used Igraph, MONET, and g:profiler to generate our network models. The list is infinite as you need different tools to obtain reliable results. In the event that there is not an existing tool available for your purpose, we create it through programming. As you can see, depending on the challenge, I have to adapt my skills over and over again.
When did you decide you wanted to work for the private sector rather than developing your career in the academia? Why?
I think that the decision to be part of academia or the private sector depends on your skills, abilities and objectives. As I mentioned, the rationale behind academia to publish papers doesn’t fulfill me. I want to generate products that can be useful for people and patients. As for me this is much more exciting. Having said this, the work that goes into a paper and discovering new things that no one found before is pleasing, but at this moment this is not my plan.
What do you do on a regular day?
During a regular day I work from 9 am to 6 pm, however this can vary because at MedBioinformatics Solutions employees have a lot of flexibility to find a good work-life balance, which is great. After work, I practice “cal·listènia”, do some jogging, or spend time with my girlfriend having a walk and enjoying life with her.
What about your hobbies?
I have many hobbies. I like to watch (and play) soccer, I’m a big fan of FC Barcelona and FC Girona. I also like to play “Frontennis”. I’m involved in the Dimonis de Capellades organization, doing the “correfoc”, a Catalan tradition. Besides all these activities, I also like sculpture, diving and dancing.
Any advice for future professionals who want to develop their careers as a bioinformatics expert?
Well, my main advice to future bioinformaticians is to be patient and not frustrated if your scripts don’t work or give no results. It is normal, this happens to everyone. For this reason, take bioinformatic problems as a challenge to overcome. You can always look for support in community-based spaces such as Stack Overflow! Such sites usually provide a lot of answers to your problems. At the end of the day, we always are there to help other bioinformaticians. Finally, as researchers, we should always be thinking and dreaming about big objectives, since that’s the only way to make them come true.