Welcome to the BiosBeat communication tool for the Department of Biostatistics at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health! Here you will find a collection of the latest department news, special features, dates to save, and much more. So, read on, enjoy, and be sure to regularly check back for updates!

In this edition:

PrecISE network award
What does a professor do in the summer?
Fun in Bios
Our Pedestrian Advocate
Best Poster at Duke
Dr. Sen 50 years at UNC
Important Dates


CSCC receives $61 million grant to identify effective asthma treatments

Drs. David Couper (left) and Anastasia Ivanova

Drs. David Couper (left) and Anastasia Ivanova

A person struggles, then panics, gasping for air but unable to get any into the lungs — as if “I were trying to breathe air underwater” or “an elephant is sitting on my chest.”

Those are the most common analogies cited for what a severe asthma attack is like. A new $61 million study led by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill will try to identify more effective treatments for such attacks and will do so by combining two important tools — precision medicine and “big data” analysis.

The five-year study is being led by Anastasia Ivanova, associate professor of biostatistics at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Co-principal investigators include David Couper, clinical professor of biostatistics, and David B. Peden, senior associate dean for translational research at UNC’s School of Medicine and adjunct professor of environmental sciences and engineering.

The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), was awarded to Ivanova under the auspices of the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (CSCC), which is housed in the biostatistics department in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Severe asthma affects nearly 10 percent of people worldwide, and despite currently available treatments, the condition remains poorly controlled for many patients. The NHLBI study and clinical trials will support a personalized medicine approach to identify new therapies for severe asthma, tailored to an individual’s disease and treatment history.

“People with severe asthma have trouble breathing almost all of the time and experience frequent, debilitating attacks,” Ivanova said. “It’s not only frightening; it can be deadly.”

Ivanova noted that her son has a light form of asthma.

“I can only imagine what patients with severe asthma go through on a daily basis,” she said.

Ivanova and her colleagues hope to reduce these episodes with an innovative new, large-scale study that will select patients and their treatments based on biomarkers.

“In addition to using specific biomarkers to pair patients with specific treatments aimed at those biomarkers, our study will allow changes to therapies as new data is gathered,” Ivanova said. “So, if a patient is not doing well on his or her current therapy, it will be possible for the patient to switch therapies in the course of the trial.”

There also will be extensive data collection during the clinical trials to help further refine treatments, not only for the study participants, but also for others with similar or identical biomarkers. Ten medical centers across the United States have been approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct the trials.

The project, formally known as “Data, Modeling and Coordination Center for NHLBI’s Precision Interventions for Severe and/or Exacerbation-Prone Asthma (PrecISE) Network,” also will engage biostatistics faculty members Michael R. Kosorok, who is the W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor and chair of the department, and professor Donglin Zeng, as well as Wanda O’Neal, an associate professor of medicine at UNC’s School of Medicine.

Fun in BIOS

Fall afternoon of revelry at annual department picnic and BSA outing to Duke UNC game

What does a professor do in the summer?

Dr. Bilsborrow’s Moroccan meal with colleagues – ISI-2017

Our Dr. Bilsborrow went to Morocco in July for the 61st conference of one of the leading international statistics societies, the International Statistical Institute (ISI), took place at the Palais des Congres in Marrakech.  Also referred to as the World Statistics Congress, the ISI comprised hundreds of Invited Papers Sessions, plus 87 Special Topics Sessions and 65 Contributed Papers Sessions, as well as side meetings and short courses. The Conference was opened by the High Commissioner for Planning of Morocco, H.E. Ahmed Lahlimi Alami, and the ISI President, Dr. Pedro Luis do Nascimento Silva. Recognizing that there has never been a prestigious global international award for lifetime accomplishments in statistics, unlike many other fields, the International Prize in Statistics was created by five international statistical societies (ASA, IBS, ISI, IMS and RSS). The inaugural award was offered to Sir David Cox, who accepted via a gracious and stimulating video from England. Moroccan dance and ritual folk music groups performed at the opening ceremony.

Funded by the World Bank and Experise France in Paris, Richard Bilsborrow, Research Professor in Biostatistics at UNC, participated in a Special Topics Session (STS) entitled, Determinants of International Migration in the Middle East and North Africa: Insights from the MED-HIMS Surveys (July 18).  MED-HIMS refers to the Mediterranean Household International Migration Survey program, which started in 2010 and aims to design, implement and analyse detailed surveys on international migration in eight developing countries of the Mediterranean region. Bilsborrow was co-author (with Ingrid Ivins, World Bank) of the overall methodology presentation, “The MED-HIMS Research Programme: Scope and Methodology” (presented by Samir Farid), presented his own paper on “Sample Design for Surveys on International Migration: MED-HIMS Methods and Applications in Egypt and Jordan”, and also served as the discussant. Other papers were presented results of the surveys in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. In the discussion, Bilsborrow made the case for the world to consider undertaking a World Migration Survey, akin to the World Fertility Survey and Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) programs which have revolutionized knowledge of and policies relating to fertility. Such a project would be consistent with the large and growing interest in international migration in the world today.

Prior to the ISI conference, Bilsborrow participated in a 3-day technical workshop of the MED-HIMS project with officials and scientists of statistical offices of seven participating countries as well as funding organizations.

Our pedestrian advocate Sarah Wotus

Majoring in biostatistics Sarah (special interests in environmental studies and city planning) published an Opinion in local papers recently.

Read it at the Raleigh News & Observer by clicking here

New & Observer Opinion – Sarah Wotus

Best poster award at Duke Symposium

Click image to learn more about the DISS meeting

Tan’s “A new approach for detecting safety signals in clinical trials” received one of the prizes for best poster at the Duke Industry Statistics Symposium in September.

Half a Century

Dr. Sen circa 1985

A special reception for Dr. PK Sen to recognize his over 50 years of service to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The reception will take place on October 16, from 5:00-6:30pm, at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on the UNC campus.   RSVP via email to

This reception in conjunction with the Conference on Nonparametrics in Modern Biomedical and Clinical Sciences in honor of Professor PK Sen and Professor Emeritus Dana Quade to be held at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center on October 16-17, 2017.  Registration for the conference is through North Carolina Central University.

Nonparametrics in Modern Biomedical and Clinical Sciences Conference

Drs. Sen and Quade are being honored at this event.  Click image below for conference registration information.

Important Student Date Reminders

October 17th last day to drop using ConnectCarolina (

  • Last day for all First Year undergraduate students who entered in Fall 2014 or later, all Fall 2016 Transfer undergraduate students and all other Fall 2016 admitted undergraduate students (New Drop Rules) to drop courses online.  Drop transactions processed between weeks 3‐8 will remain on the student’s record with a grade of WC (Withdrawal by Choice).
  • Last day for all non‐First Year Undergraduate students admitted prior to Fall 2016 (Old Drop Rules) to drop courses.  Drop transactions processed up to this date will not remain on the student’s record and there will be no grade recorded.
  • Last day for graduate and professional students to drop a Fall course using the web registration system.
  • Last day for Graduate and Undergraduate students to submit Pass/Fail Declarations.
  • Incompletes (IN’s) from prior terms (Spring and Summer 2017) change to F* for Undergraduate Students
  • End of Academic Progress Report Period – Undergraduate Academic progress Reports Closed in ConnectCarolina


Fall Recess – Thursday and Friday,  October 19th and 20th

Tuesday, October 24th  Last day to withdraw for credit on student’s financial account

Masters Presentation Day is Friday, December 1st starting at 9am in MCG 2308

For more Gillings School events, view the school’s event calendar.