A Man of Many Talents

By Lynn McCain | January 24

Robert_Bell_Headshot-sq 500.jpgRenowned for its natural beauty, much like Michigan, Arkansas is the birthplace of one of our newer faculty in the Department of Pathology, Dr. Robert C. Bell, Assistant Professor of Pathology. Dr. Bell specializes in hematopathology, informatics, and molecular diagnostics.

Bell spent his entire childhood in Arkansas and attended the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock, where he met his wife, Dr. Tara Havens, who serves as a pediatric pulmonologist at Michigan. “We did the couples match for our residency and matched at the University of Arizona, Tucson. We then were able to do our fellowships at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri,” said, Bell. As they were completing their fellowships, they began looking for a place they could call home. “I had heard of Dr. Balis (Director of Pathology Informatics) and MIchigan's strong reputation in both the clinical and pathology informatics space. Given this and the strength of the Pediatric Pulmonology section, my wife and I knew Michigan would be a great place to start our search. One of my mentors at WashU reached out to Dr. Balis on my behalf and he put me in contact with  Dr. Valdez (Director of Clinical Pathology). Fortunately, the Pathology Department had an opening for a Clinical Informatician. Subsequently, Dr. Valdez was able to work with the Department of Pediatrics to coordinate our joint recruitment.” Dr. Ric Valdez added, "The idea for this position was the brain child of our former colleague, Dr. David McClintock. Dr. Bell was recruited to be a clinical informatician, but brought with him the added bonus of serving as a molecular pathologist and hematopathologist."

Hematopathology is not the only skill Bell brings to Michigan, however. He is also a talented molecular diagnostician and informaticist. When Dr. Annette Kim was recruited as the Director of the Division of Genetics and Genomics in Pathology, she knew she had found a gem in Bell. He was soon given leadership of the molecular informatics section, where he is working to integrate the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory and the Michigan Medical Genetics Laboratory as the Division implements the strategic plans for the Department.

Dr. Robert Bell examines test results in his office.One of these plans involves bringing the MiOncoSeq test, developed in the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, into clinical use. Bell explains, “This involves recreating and duplicating pipelines, building the Google Cloud infrastructure, setting up both virtual machines and additional servers, purchasing the new NovaSeq sequencer and performing validations on it, creating new reporting application with data visualization and annotation functionality, and then getting the application to sync with both Epic and the Path LIS system.” Similar processes are underway for the solid tumor and myeloid NGS panels, Archer FUSIONPlex assay, and soon-to-be-developed whole genome assay. To continue moving the molecular diagnostic field forward, Bell is also working to develop machine learning classification models “in order to aid in diagnosing elusive and difficult to classify neoplasms” which translate into improved diagnoses for patients. This is a personal learning challenge for Bell, but he knows if he needs assistance, the Pathology Informatics team is ready and able to help.

As he works on the molecular informatics processes, he is also continuing to provide clinical care through signing out cases in hematopathology and molecular pathology. While he enjoys his molecular work, Bell is happy he can continue to practice hematopathology. “Hemepath was always the starting passion that got me interested in pathology, and it has never gone away.”

Outside of work, Bell describes himself and his wife as “homebodies” – they enjoy quiet evenings at home, where they can often be found working on jigsaw puzzles and doing crossword puzzles. They also are “foodies” – they love to try new restaurants and breweries. Their favorite restaurant so far is Chartreuse Kitchen and Cocktails in Detroit. While they have yet to discover a favorite local winery, they are big fans of Moth Fire and Homes microbreweries. Bell is also trying his hand at creating his own home brew and hard ciders. He is hoping he also finds time to get more involved in another of his passions, woodworking. “I haven’t convinced my wife to let me get a lathe yet, but I would kind of like to get into turning.”