40 Under 40

Ayin Vala

Foundation for Precision Medicine
Rochester, MN

Why is a 40 under 40 winner

1. Ayin co-founded and serves as chief data scientist at the Foundation for Precision Medicine, where he built the volunteer team from scratch to 25+ volunteers and scientists from Yale, MIT, Cal Tech, and Stanford, working on AI models that can accurately predict
Alzheimer’s Disease based on patients’ historical diagnosis, brain imaging, and previously taken medications.

2. He raised nearly $1 million in donations from Bay Area donors, Google for Nonprofits, and the National Institute of Health, and established close partnerships with Stanford University, Mayo Clinic, and Yale School of Medicine.

3. Ayin and Foundation for Precision Medicine's successful partnership with Google contributed to the launch of Google’s program for nonprofits called Data Solutions for Change.

4. He is a frequent speaker at data science, artificial intelligence and health care conferences.

Q & A

1. How did you get into health care philanthropy?

I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s when I was very young. I always wanted to be able to somehow contribute towards the cure of the disease. After I graduated with my master’s degree, I started working at an early stage healthcare analytics startup. Through our partnerships, I gained access to an incredible dataset that included thousands of Alzheimer’s patients and their historical hospital visits. At this time, my close friend's mother had just passed away from Alzheimer’s. What was disturbing to me was how similar her trajectory of disease was to my grandfather’s who died from Alzheimer’s almost 25 years prior. I realized how little progress has been made towards the treatment in decades. After some research, I noticed most of the studies on Alzheimer’s are funded by big pharmaceutical companies motivated by commercial interests. I started working on a project to help Alzheimer’s research in a non-profit way, bringing clinicians, researchers, and data scientists together. This project later laid the work to establishing our non-profit, Foundation for Precision Medicine, to implement personalized medicine where it could have a social impact.     

2. Why did you choose to make health care philanthropy your career?

Because I realized the dots on the plot are people. Every row of health care data has a story attached to it. It can be a life event for an individual and his or her family, and my team analyzes thousands of these events at a time. Recognizing this fact can be unsettling at times, but is always very motivating. 

3. Tell us about a pivot point or crucial step in your career journey.

After graduating in the field of data science, my colleagues and I were aspired to go work at major internet and social media companies. You know, the ones that offer free lunch and have ping pong tables in colorful hallways. I even interviewed at a couple, which mostly focused on online ads. One day, my brother told me about two doctors he just met, who quit their practices and started an analytics company to improve patient care and reduce inefficiencies in hospitals using patient data. I was so intrigued that I rented a car and drove two hours that night to go and meet them for dinner. We instantly clicked and started working together. That night significantly changed my career trajectory into health care. 

4. What was your first job, and what is something it taught you?

I immigrated to the US after high school and started college right away. This is when I could hardly speak English and didn’t have many friends. I was very good at math and statistics in high school. Realizing my potential, my calculus professor suggested that I start tutoring in the university’s tutoring center and even to TA in the same class I was in. This helped me gain the confidence I needed at the time. I learned how to be patient with people and witnessed how they were patient with me at times, as I tried to explain the mathematical concepts. I assisted hundreds of students to overcome their challenging school work, and some became my friends outside the class. I was later voted the favorite tutor of the semester. To this day, it has been one of my favorite jobs ever.      

5. What are your future aspirations?

To continue leading health care nonprofits towards one goal: better care for patients. To stay humble, and as my wife always says, “think outside the box.” 
Ayin Vala

Fun Fact:

Years ago I took a hefty career-oriented personality test. It suggested I would most appropriately fit into non-profit and philanthropic work. I didn’t think of it much at the time, but now I realize perhaps these tests are sometimes accurate!