Orly Alter is a Utah Science, Technology, and Research associate professor of bioengineering and human genetics at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, the principal investigator of a National Cancer Institute's Physical Sciences in Oncology project, and the chief technology officer and a co-founder of Eigengene, Inc. Alter received her Ph.D. in applied physics at Stanford University and her B.Sc. magna cum laude in physics at Tel Aviv University. Her Ph.D. thesis on "Quantum Measurement of a Single System," which was published by Wiley, is recognized as crucial to gravitational wave detection.
Inventor of the "eigengene," Alter formulates physics-inspired multi-tensor generalizations of the singular value decomposition to (i) compare and integrate any data types, of any number and dimensions, and (ii) scale with data sizes. Her models (iii) are interpretable in terms of known biology and batch effects and (iv) correctly predict previously unknown mechanisms. By validating a genome-wide pattern of DNA copy-number alterations in brain tumors as the best predictor of survival, her retrospective clinical trial proved that the models (v) discover accurate, precise, and actionable genotype-phenotype relationships, (vi) are relevant to populations based upon whole genomes of small cohorts, and (vii) can be validated. She discovered this, and patterns in lung, nerve, ovarian, and uterine tumors, in public data. Such alterations were recognized in cancer, yet attempts to associate them with outcome failed, demonstrating that Alter's algorithms are uniquely suited to personalized medicine.