Welcome to BiosBeat a collection of the latest department news, special features, dates to save, and much more for our students. So, read on, enjoy, and be sure to regularly check back for updates!


HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS ISSUE:

  • Chair’s Corner amplifies Gillings student voices
  • Mental health summit focus
  • Phi Beta Kappa inducts Bios Students
  • Biostatisticians needed now – great demand for our grads
  • AI could make us more healthy
  • more…

CHAIR’S CORNER

Lisa LaVange

Lisa LaVange, PhD

Greetings! We are well into the Spring 2022 semester and reflecting on an academic year heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the toll that the pandemic has taken on so many, we are featuring students’ voices in this issue of BiosBeat and are excited to share thoughts and perspective from three students, in addition to our usual run-down of research and awards. I continue to be amazed at the resilience of all our students, faculty, and staff alike. We completed the fall semester with in-person classes and lots of masks, and began this semester remotely, but transitioned to mostly in-person classes after a few weeks. Our experts (and we are so fortunate to be surrounded by so many!) see a decline in omicron cases and hospitalizations. I am cautiously optimistic that spring weather is right around the corner and will bring with it a renewed sense of hope and camaraderie to campus.


FACULTY PERSPECTIVE

Silhouette for missing image.

Chapel Hill biostatistics pandemic experience shared

When asked to address COVID-19, mental health and the weird times we are in, one instructor response that was shared will be our introduction —

“These last several semesters have seemed to stretch on and on, each one requiring students to adapt with the constantly changing virus. I hope we faculty have been successful in being flexible in teaching our courses so that students do not reach a mental health breaking point.”

As things slowly become more normal, we hope all of our Bios Community will remember this time for the resilience we shared.

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

PANDEMIC RESHAPES COLLEGE LIFE

Remoteness has impacted everyone

In the center of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus sits Memorial Hall (circa 1880s); the building is a testament to the strength and survival of the young men at the university who fought in the civil war, and other subsequent war monuments sit nearby. With a reduced presence on campus, Carolina students from this pandemic era may have no idea where that building stands today—or its significance.

Strolling down East Cameron Avenue and past the Old Well, you’ll come across the Davie Poplar tree. The enduring legend of the towering tree is that if it remains standing, the university will thrive. If it falls, the university will crumble. Davie Poplar has witnessed World Wars, drafts, prejudice and pandemics. And it is still standing. Throughout the history of our institution, there have been periods of significant loss, tragedy and resilience.

Yet, in the face of each challenge, generation after generation, it is the students that have banded together and survived. It is the students that chose to endure. Now, amid a global public health crisis, our Carolina generation is facing a challenge of its own. From growing accustomed to the emptiness of campus to adapting back to the bustling real world, the past year and a half in Chapel Hill are a time many will look back on with some sadness but also hope.

Student response to the pandemic has been one of unity. Class and student organization group chats have sported open invitations from individual students to meet for lunch, coffee or studying in efforts to meet people in a world reshaped by the pandemic. But for many students, our large, lovely campus took a while to feel like home. The overall sentiment is one of some unmet expectations.

For many undergraduate students: sitting at a desk in their childhood home, taking a deep breath before clicking to join yet another Zoom meeting. Struggling to feel a sense of community or connection to a campus they visited only a handful of times. For a graduate student: moving to Chapel Hill from out-of-state only to spend each day logging online from their apartment desk made building relationships seem impossible. What was missed most were the many little moments: small talk before class, recognizing someone in the hallway, or commiserating on a difficult problem set.

Meeting students, not to mention friends, on Zoom was really hard. It is difficult to form lasting impressions when thrown into a brand-new breakout room every class with people you may never see again.

Adjusting to a new normal has inevitably affected work-life balance as well. When working remotely, there is always more to be done, and the to-do list can feel endless. It is imperative to normalize checking in with friends, family, and loved ones – asking “how are you?” and meaning it.

Through this isolating time, mental health challenges intensified. Searching for support and meaning in connecting with people in any way possible, was crucial to feeling less alone.

And when things became unbearably lonely, it was the students who banded together to call for greater mental health support from the university. Collective support abounded: free hugs given out in the quad, therapy dogs offering comfort in the pit.

Transitions are not easy, and within the guidelines set by COVID-19, many searched for groups that provided community both in and out of the classroom. A biostatistics undergraduate remarked that even in the large introductory courses, professors facilitated connection and community. Through discussion and being placed in the same breakout room for a few classes, peers became familiar faces rather than blank zoom screens.

Similarly, other professors took the time to genuinely check-in with students, a reminder that personal well-being comes first. The greatest mark of sincerity came from those open to adjusting schedule or class style per student feedback. A graduate student appreciated the graciousness of his professors and their willingness to extend deadlines and adopt a take-home exam format. Another student remarked that one professor even rewrote their final exam to an easier format to relieve stress and anxiety.

Many students found that joining groups that align with their values, background and goals has strengthened a sense of purpose and commitment to the well-being of themselves and others. For a biostatistics student, finding joy in her leadership roles both on campus and in the wider Carolina community gave space for open conversations about identity, values, wellness, and interpersonal connections.

Having a wider impact beyond just classwork provided a different sense of worth outside of academics. We have all found that community and belonging can exist, even in the face of adversity and isolation. Leaning into the shared experience of college life in a pandemic has strengthened the bond between all students, undergraduate and graduate alike.

Now, with campus slowly returning to its lively and energetic self, most people are eager to connect with new friends. There is a yearning for interaction, community, and belonging, in a more urgent and universal sense than pre-pandemic.

Taking a moment to step back and observe the variety of flyers posted in residence and dining halls, yard signs placed in the grass, or even taped to the back of bathroom stalls serve as a reminder of the sheer number and variety of activities occurring on campus at any given moment. From sunset a cappella concerts to intramural volleyball, advocacy groups to cultural showcases, it may just take some trial and error to find your happy, safe place on campus.

For some graduate students, their academic journey is ending. But for one student, the opportunity to continue exemplifying resilience and strength comes in the form of a career starting at UNC-CH this summer.

The Davie Poplar tree is still standing. And so are we.

BIOSTATISTICS CHAIR’S NOTE OF THANKS –
This story was a collaborative effort combining the experiences of three students reflecting on their past year at UNC-Chapel Hill. The writers will remain anonymous, but they’ve touched themes we can all relate to and we do most sincerely appreciate their willingness to openly share this story.


AROUND CAMPUS

TARHEELS BAND TOGETHER

Carolina summit focused on mental health for a day

Everyone on our planet has been affected by the pandemic. On UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus and beyond, college life and our students have suffered. In a time of life that is already challenging for many, on top of classes, clubs, illness and economic distress, the uncertainty of this era added unparalleled anxiety.

In a study by The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University, of 43,000 college students seeking mental health treatment in fall 2020, 72 percent said that the pandemic had “negatively affected their mental health”, and 67 percent reported it led to feelings of loneliness or isolation.

After nearly two years of virtual learning, remote classes and breakout rooms, in-person classes resumed at many universities this year. And all over the U.S., the pivot to a variety of “new normals” became the new normal.

Researchers are discovering that the sudden return to campus has had a jarring effect. Professor and Associate Director of clinical psychology in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill, Andrea Hussong, PhD, said many students returned to campus more “emotionally vulnerable” than ever. In an interview with the college of arts and sciences, Hussong said this return “presents the potential for a spiraling effect, with the renewed challenges of school undermining recovery for the growing number of youth who experienced mental health challenges at the beginning of the school year.”

After a semester of tragedy and transition, our campus took additional steps to ensure students and staff feel supported as the “return to normal” carries on. A virtual Mental Health Summit held in November sought to address the “mental health crisis on our campus and in our nation.” Faculty, staff, parents and students discussed crisis prevention and next steps for adequate mental health support in the UNC Community.

“For all students of all ages, COVID has changed so much far beyond our campus and morphed normal into an unrecognizable memory, bringing isolation and overexposure to screens out of necessity.  Everyone who is devoted to student academics has witnessed, experienced or heard of the struggles of this virtual world. What we fail to recognize is the growth, resilience and strength we met this new way at each of the many steps or turns of crazy. We also somehow expect to jump back to the ‘norm’ with the idea of what that looked like prior to many months of remote instruction and work. Our bubble shrank, our communication and interpersonal interaction skills got dusty, but our expectation that we still had it was quickly made evident when we returned to in-person. That was a surprise. It is evident the mental health issues that have become synonymous with the pandemic require us to destigmatize mental health and invest time and resources for our students. This might be the one great thing that has come out of such loss. This momentum cannot slow down as we continue to make progress towards being able to gather in person. Campuses are not meant to be empty, halls are not meant to be so very silent and our students are not meant to be isolated from the very experience they have come to us for.  We are still pioneering…” said one of our student services staff advocates.

Sadly, following deaths by suicide on multiple campuses, including ours, student mental health sharpened into focus. A mental health day followed with classes canceled, concerned moms handing out cookies and hugs, and therapy dogs offering comfort in the academic quad.

The university also scheduled a designated wellness day for April 14, when instructors will not hold class, administer tests, collect papers or assign new work. In an effort to eliminate the ongoing waitlist at the Counseling and Psychological Services, the university implemented a new dual system with telehealth service Uwill. The system pairs students seeking counseling with licensed professionals, extending hours and expanding CAPS’ services.

Though it has been a difficult period for many, the Chapel Hill community responded in stride. Moving forward, it is encouraging to see an increased effort to support the well-being of students. The administration has a number of efforts underway to expand the support and fundamentally change the culture, keeping mental health in the same sphere as physical health.

Resource for Carolina students:

National Links:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (TALK) or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  • National Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
  • Call your organization’s employee assistance program or your health plan for services

BEYOND CHAPEL HILL

SUMMER BREAK THE GILLINGS WAY

Students at the Gillings School of Global Public Health do summer break differently. Sure, there is some relaxation, but for many, it is the time to sharpen skills, get creative, and help the world.

Matthew Dinwiddie, an undergraduate senior double-majoring in mathematics and biostatistics, spent summer 2021 interning on campus at the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), exemplifying how much difference a Gillings student can make in a few short months.

CFAR has multiple GRA and internship opportunities

Dinwiddie spent the first part of his summer immersed in a research project that aims to discover what variables stand in the way of people seeking HIV testing. Researchers looked at the factors associated with testing outcomes among couples looking for prenatal care in Lusaka, Zambia, to determine their results. Over the first weeks, he analyzed data in the contexts of self-testing and clinic-delivered testing using SAS to conduct analyses.

The rest of his summer was spent working on a potential manuscript to hopefully be published in the Journal of Immunological Methods. Dinwiddie and his mentor, Ann Marie Weideman, a Biostatistics PhD candidate at the Gillings School, hope such a manuscript can bring partial correlation to the attention of researchers who are not well-versed in statistical methods and arm them with tools to conduct suitable analysis.

“Not only do we want to provide researchers with knowledge of partial correlation, but we also want to provide them with a direct way to compute it,” Dinwiddie said. One of his most notable accomplishments is the development of an R Shiny web-based calculator. It serves as a supplement of current calculators to increase efficiency and accessibility for users. Other online calculators usually assume that users are comfortable with more intermediate statistical concepts and are thus are relatively sparse on instruction, causing unnecessary difficulties for researchers.

Reflecting on his summer experience, Dinwiddie sees his career path with a more determinant perspective. “The internship solidified my interest in working with large datasets and utilizing advanced statistical techniques,” he said. “It has reinforced my desire to pursue further statistics and analytics education.” Upon graduation, Dinwiddie will start his master’s program.

DIRECTOR OF THE CDC GIVES KEYNOTE ADDRESS FOR CSCC STUDY

The Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (CSCC) of the Department of Biostatistics welcomed the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, to a nationwide research network’s biannual meeting this past October.

Dr. Walensky’s keynote address to the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions (ATN) described the HIV epidemic among youth in the U.S., spotlighting the work yet to be done and the CDC’s role in it. She highlighted recent research findings, including research published in the journal AIDS & Behavior on the cost-effectiveness of HIV medication adherence interventions for youth. The paper was co-authored by Professor and Associate Chair of the biostatistics department Michael Hudgens, PhD, and Associate Professor of Epidemiology Kimberly Powers, PhD.

“Dr. Walensky’s enthusiasm and commitment to addressing the adolescent HIV epidemic energized the ATN,” said Professor Hudgens. “We look forward to future collaborative efforts between the ATN and CDC as we work together to end the HIV epidemic.”

The CSCC is a unit of the Department of Biostatistics.

The ATN is a research network funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aims to defeat the HIV epidemic among adolescents and young adults in the U.S. ATN research is conducted across the HIV care continuum, from prevention to care for youth living with HIV.

The CSCC has operated the ATN’s coordinating center activities since being awarded funding by the NIH in 2016. Its staff members, including research coordinators, project directors, graduate research assistants, biostatisticians, and data management professionals, among other roles, manage the statistics, data, and overall project management for ATN studies conducted across the country.

The CSCC’s ATN staff organize two network meetings a year, one in April and one in October. These meetings are important opportunities for researchers across the country to share practices and study results with each other. Due to the pandemic, the meetings have been held virtually since April 2020 instead of in-person.

This project is led by Professors LaVange and Hudgens, along with Lisa Strader. The Gillings team of Investigators includes Assistant Professors Matthew Psioda and Bonnie Shock-Sa.

These UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members, along with leading researchers at other organizations across the country, such as the NIH, all work with graduate student research assistants (GRAs).

Read more here.

Gillings GRAs, working with faculty members, conduct research and analyze results.

Below we highlight some student coauthored ATN papers–                                                                        

Doctoral candidate Kimberly Enders contributed to the paper “Daily Predictors of ART Adherence Among Young Men Living with HIV Who Have Sex with Men: A Longitudinal Daily Diary Study,” published in 2021 in the journal AIDS and Behavior. Read more here.

Doctoral candidate Justin DeMonte,  contributed to the paper, “Rates of sexually transmitted infection diagnoses among US youth with perinatally- and non-perinatally acquired HIV,” published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases in 2021. Read more here.

EVAN KWIATKOWSKI, PHD 2021, CONTRIBUTED TO the PAPER IN THE JOURNAL AIDS AND BEHAVIOR PUBLISHED IN 2021, WHILE A GRA, ON “PRE-EXPOSURE PROPHYLAXIS IMPLEMENTATION IN FAMILY PLANNING SERVICES ACROSS THE SOUTHERN UNITED STATES: FINDINGS FROM A SURVEY AMONG STAFF, PROVIDERS AND ADMINISTRATORS WORKING IN TITLE X-FUNDED CLINICS.” READ MORE HERE.

Kevin Donovan, PhD 2021, contributed to a 2019 publication as a GRA: “Higher soluble CD14 levels are associated with lower visuospatial memory performance in youth with HIV,” published in the journal AIDS. Read more here.

RESHAPING HEALTHCARE GILLINGS RESEARCHERS USE AI

Kosorok dispelled some misconceptions about AI

Our very own W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics Michael R. Kosorok, PhD, was featured on an NPR radio show recently to discuss the ways artificial intelligence (AI) can make healthcare more accessible and equitable—and how at Gillings, it’s already happening.

Mike Collins, host of the WFAE series “The Price We Pay”, a radio show that analyzes the rising cost of the American healthcare system, interviewed former Department chair Kosorok as an expert leading the field of AI and healthcare.

New health technology has the potential to reduce costs and improve care across the board. Professor Kosorok leads a research team at Gillings that is developing new algorithms and statistical methodology to create an app that combines AI with real-time data give to personalized health care suggestions.

The team aims to design a smartphone app that could provide diabetic patients with tailored exercise plans that keep their blood sugar levels in the safe range. “For example, if an individual has diabetes, how much insulin that individual should take, what they should do about their exercise, diet, etc” Kosorok said.

The project reveals the promising prospect of biostatistics and health care. By utilizing data, AI and wearable sensors, researchers are trying to alter the health care industry, eliminating barriers to treatment and even preventing diseases altogether.

Listen here.

IMPACTFUL RESEARCH

VACCINES ARE EFFECTIVE — BIOS PROVES WHY

Booster shots really boost

A new study led by a team of Biostatistics researchers shows COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization or death nine months after getting the shot. The study underlines the importance of booster shots, citing that breakthrough infections are caused by declining immunity over time and the emergence of new variants.

The researchers used data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), surveying the experiences of 11 million North Carolina residents over a period of nine months. All three vaccines were proven to be effective, although the two mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer –BioNTech) provided higher levels of protection than the Johnson & Johnson–Janssen.

The research was led by Dennis Gillings Distinguished Professor of Biostatistics Danyu Lin, PhD, with contribution from Yu Gu, biostatistics doctoral candidate, and professor Donglin Zeng.

Read Gillings story here, read journal here.

STUDENT AND FACULTY DEVELOP METHOD TO STUDY EFFICACY OF PUBLIC HEALTH INTERVENTIONS

Shaina Alexandria, PhD

New research from  Shaina Alexandria, PhD 2021, proposes a method to study the efficacy of public health interventions in the presence of interference, which occurs when one person’s treatment can affect another person’s outcome. The study, published in Biometrics this past November, provides a valid approach to evaluate the effect of interventions—like mask wearing or social distancing—on the spread of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases within a social network.

Last fall, Alexandria became an assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine (Biostatistics) at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. As a graduate student in professor Michael Hudgens’ causal inference research lab, she was motivated to study interference by her interest in the eX-FLU trial, a study conducted by Epidemiology Professor Allison Aiello, PhD. The eX-FLU trial enrolled a highly-connected network of college students to test the impact of social distancing on the spread of influenza-like illnesses. The study answers important questions about infectious disease transmission and isolation in a dependent and non-random sample, but prior to Alexandria’s study, no methods existed to provide adequate inferences about the intervention effect.

Alexandria and co-authors Aiello and Hudgens worked together for several years to develop a randomization-based interference (RI) method that would be valid for inference in the eX-FLU trial. The result is an approach to evaluate an intervention that is valid for estimating the “spillover” effect that may indirectly impact peers of those receiving the intervention. This research contributes important literature that aims to eliminate barriers to the implementation of public health interventions and pave the way for future studies of illness-transmission prevention measures.

Read more here.

GILLINGS TEAM OF SEVEN TACKLE COVID-19 TREATMENT

The FDA authorized use of Merck’s pill in December

Desperately needed COVID-19 antiviral treatments are being developed. Gillings researchers are on top of assessing their safety, tolerability, and antiviral efficacy.

Recently published research from a Gillings group evaluates baseline data from an outpatient Phase 2 study of the Molnupiravir pill, a potential treatment that is shown to stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2. Their findings suggest the pill is highly effective—and identifies who would benefit most from its use.

Researchers from the biostatistics department include principal biostatistician Katie Mollan, MS, 4th year PhD student Taylor Krajewski, MA, and Professor and Associate Chair of the Department Michael Hudgens, PhD.

Colleagues at the UNC School of Medicine, including William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School Ralph Baric, PhD, Timothy Sheahan, PhD, and Herman and Louise Smith Distinguished Professor of Medicine Joseph Eron, MD, worked on the study. Professors Baric and Sheahan led a groundbreaking study of Merck’s pill in 2020.

The research shows that administering treatment as early as possible is critical to limiting disease replication. Widespread accessibility to testing is necessary so patients can find their infection early.

“These results suggest that for unvaccinated individuals, measurement of antibody status along with pre-existing conditions would be useful for identifying candidates for virus-targeted treatment,” Mollan said.

As the emergence of new variants raises questions about the efficacy of antiviral treatments, Gillings researchers continue adjusting to the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic.

Read more here.

GET TO KNOW BIOS

BSPH BIOSTATISTICS COHORT LARGEST EVER

BSPH’rs graduate with highly valuable data science skills

Over 40 years ago, The Gillings School started the country’s first undergraduate degree program in biostatistics. Now, the program is bigger than ever—and it’s unlikely to slow down.

Since its first degree awarded in 1978, the BSPH program now boasts over 400 graduates, with this year’s incoming class being the largest in its history, admitting over 40 new students in fall 2021. This growth points to the increasing demand for biostatisticians, especially in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. Associate Professor  and Director of Undergraduate Studies Jane Monaco notes that biostatisticians have always been crucial, but the pandemic has given the career necessary exposure.

“Understanding data has always been important. With the pandemic, that need is even more urgent and critical. That means, to me, that biostatisticians have never been more important. Covid-19 has made it obvious that we need a larger, better quantitatively trained workforce who can make evidence-based decisions,” Monaco said.

The BSPH program at Gillings provides undergraduate students with a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum that prepares them for careers in biostatistics, data analytics, bioinformatics, medicine or epidemiology.

Using data in public health has always been critical. But now more than ever, employers from all fields are seeking out data-literate students upon graduation, a need Monaco emphasizes is only going to increase.

“We not only need more well-trained biostatisticians, we need more people trained to use and understand data, even if their job title is not ‘biostatistician.’ The amount of data we can collect, and ease with which we can collect it, is growing enormously,” she said.

SPOTLIGHT ON FACULTY

Michael Hudgens

Michael Hudgens, PhD

MICHAEL HUDGENS

Position: Professor and Associate Chair
Time at The Gillings School: 17 years
What I do (and why I love it): There are so many aspects to being a professor that I enjoy, including working one on one with students, teaching in the classroom, and collaborating with some of the leading infectious diseases scientists in the world.
First job or internship I had was: My first biostatistics related internship was with a small start-up company in Atlanta, GA. The company was developing a non-invasive instrument to measure bilirubin levels in infants in order to diagnose jaundice without having to draw blood.
A recent book I read or show I watched, and why it was important to me: Currently I’m reading Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I read this book years ago in high school, but since then I have visited South Africa and worked with faculty and students from Wits University, so it is very interesting to reread this book from a different perspective.
A hobby I enjoy outside of Gillings: I really enjoy exercising, including hiking, jogging, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and (occasionally) skiing. I also play a little guitar and mandolin.
Any family life/personal life update you’d like to share with Biosbeat readers: I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful family, and enjoy spending much of my time with my wife Melissa and our children Cate and Colin. The family of the four of us did a trip to Lake Tahoe, California for the holidays.

BIOSTATISTICS STUDENT ASSOCIATION

OUR STUDENT ASSOCIATION HIKES, EATS AND MORE TO BOND

BSA members enjoy a hike at Eno River state park

Led by the current co-presidents, the BSA organized a 4 mi hike and pizza party at the Eno River State Park, Friendsgiving for international students, a social at Tru Deli, Discord movie nights, and a festive LDOC holiday party at The Pitch on Franklin Street. All students from BIOS and STOR were invited to bring food, friends, and board games. These social gatherings helped create a stronger sense of community in the era of COVID-19.

Intellectually and career-minded activities included the monthly student seminar series, a virtual panel for applicants to Gillings and a summer internship panel with speakers from Genentech, GSK, and Emmes.

The BSA is partially funded through the biostatistics department and Gillings Student Organization Fund.

Learn more about the BSA and upcoming events here.

AWARDS/HONORS/FACULTY NEWS

BIOS STUDENTS INDUCTED INTO PHI BETA KAPPA

Carolina’s chapter (est. 1904) is the oldest in the state

Four students from the Gillings School’s Department of Biostatistics were recently inducted to Phi Beta Kappa, the country’s oldest and most honored college honorary society.

Fewer than 1 percent of all college students qualify for membership. The requirement for eligibility for students in undergraduate professional degree programs is a minimum GPA of 3.750 with completion of 105 semester hours.

Phi Beta Kappa was founded in 1776 as a society devoted to the pursuit of liberal education and intellectual fellowship. Past and present Phi Beta Kappa members from across the country include 17 American presidents, 41 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and many more artistic, intellectual, and political leaders.

Membership in Phi Beta Kappa lasts a lifetime, allowing employers to view it as a competitive advantage and a mark of personal distinction.

Congratulations to our fall 2021 inductees, four undergraduate students: Ali Ahmad Khan, Hyun Ho Lee, Yunzhe Qian, and Neha Vivek Mokashi.

SENIOR BSPH’R AWARDED SUPPORT FOR THESIS RESEARCH

Bella Qian, an undergraduate in the BSPH Biostatistics program, was awarded a Michael P. and Jean W. Carter Research Award to support her senior honors thesis research project, “Single-cell multiomic analysis reveals Gene Regulatory Network at Single-cell Level during Early Stage of Direct Cardiac Reprogramming”.

Bella enjoys the outdoors in her free time

Qian works with Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Genetics Yuchao Jiang, PhD, and Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Associate Director of the McAllister Heart Institute Li Qian, PhD, on researching the cell reprogramming mechanism as a regenerative procedure for those who suffer from myocardial infraction (MI), also known as a heart attack.

After graduation, Qian plans to continue her interests in cardiology and pursue a doctorate in regenerative medicine. She wants to focus future research on direct reprogramming of human fibroblast to functional cardiomyocytes.

Congratulations to Bella Qian on her accomplishments!

NIH GRANT TO FUND DNA RESEARCH

Dr. Michael Love

Michael Love, PhD

Congratulations to Assistant Professor Michael Love on the award of $9.25 million offered by the Impact of Genomic Variation on Function (IGVF) Consortium of the National Institutes of Health. The grant funds the study to identify specific DNA variants that alter gene expression levels to influence the risk of disease. The study is led by Professor Hyejung Won, PhD in the Department of Genetics at UNC School of Medicine.

Professor Love will serve as co-investigator in this research project. His research focuses on statistical and computational methods for the analysis of high-throughput sequencing assays to facilitate biomedical and biological research.

Read more here.

PILOT GRANT AWARDED TO DEGENERATIVE DISEASE RESEARCH

Tanya Garcia

Tanya Garcia, PhD.

While researchers know diet and exercise can affect the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, they aren’t sure how. Associate Professor of Biostatistics Tanya Garcia’s newly funded research project aims to fill that gap in the literature.

Garcia was awarded a $25k pilot grant from the Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility’s (CEHS) Pilot Project program. Reviewers were clear Garcia’s project will establish impactful developments in developmental disease research.

Previous studies utilized methods that estimated values for age of disease onset, which can provide inaccurate conclusions about the impact of environmental factors since disease onset varies and exact age is not always known. Garcia’s project aims to create new statistical methods that can evaluate just how soon before onset environmental factors can affect disease trajectories.

“I’m thrilled that this project was funded. We have long known diet and exercise are linked to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, and this project will help us understand how,” Garcia said.

The Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility’s (CEHS) Pilot Project program fosters innovative research by providing support to new investigators. The organization’s mission is to accelerate environmental health research and address health disparities in North Carolina.

BIOS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AWARDED JUNIOR FACULTY DEVELOPMENT AWARD

Baiming Zou

Baiming Zou, PhD

Biostatistics Assistant Professor (joint appointment at the UNC School of Nursing) Baiming Zou has been awarded a UNC-Chapel Hill Junior Faculty Development Award, sponsored by the UNC Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost and administered by the provost’s committee on faculty research and scholarly leaves.

Zou’s primary research interests involve robust statistical modeling and algorithm development for big data with complex structures. His group’s current research is focused on developing machine learning methods and computational algorithms with applications to large-scale electronic health record data analysis and integration of high-dimensional data.

QUEFENG LI PROMOTED TO ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

Quefeng Li

Quefeng Li, PhD

Professor Li received his statistics doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013, completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University in 2015, and joined our faculty as assistant professor that same year.

Since arriving at UNC, professor Li had made significant contributions in the areas of precision medicine, subgroup identification, and meta-analysis of high throughput genomic data. His methodological research in data integration from multiple sources and high-dimensional data modeling is noteworthy and impactful.

Li has had very successful collaborations here at UNC, primarily with the Departments of Psychiatry and Cardiology in the School of Medicine. Each spring, he teaches one of the most difficult but important doctoral courses (Biostatistics 761) in the Department. His mentorship includes advising doctoral students and graduate research assistants on his grants.

PROFESSOR PAUL STEWART RETIRES

Paul Stewart, PhD

Paul Stewart, PhD, research professor in the biostatistics department with over 35 years of experience in research design, statistical computation and interpretive analysis, retired in 2021. Professor Stewart’s contributions to the Department include more than 20 years of experience teaching graduate courses in the advanced theory of linear statistical models and linear algebra in the UNC Department of Biostatistics, thousands of hours spent training and supervising GRAs, and direction of thesis work for a large number of graduate students.

Professor Stewart earned both of his graduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating with his PhD in Biostatistics in 1981. Outside of the Department, Stewart served as chief biostatistician on the Scientific Review Subcommittee of the UNC School of Medicine IRB. For ten years, he directed both the Biostatistics Core of the General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) at UNC and the Biostatistics Core of the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR). Stewart was involved in the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) at the UNC School of Medicine since its inception, pioneering the common goal to eliminate barriers from laboratory discoveries to patient treatments. Most recently, he served on the Scientific Review Committee for the Vice-Chancellor of Research’s office. Professor Stewart was incredibly dedicated to the success of his students and the Department, and the improvement of biomedical research nationally.

IMPORTANT STUDENT DATE REMINDERS

  • March 11 – Spring Break Begins
  • April  15 – No classes at UNC for Wellness Day
  • April 27 – Spring Semester Classes End
  • May 12 & 13, 2022 – Greenberg Lecture Series – Andrew Gelman, PhD
    Professor, Department of Statistics and Department of Political Science, Columbia University
    Details for the three lectures(PDF) here
  • More important dates can be found here.

If you have news or a story idea you feel would fit BiosBeat, please submit them to Jeff Oberhaus / Bios Communications.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to COVID-19 and related events, BiosRhythms print magazine has been delayed. Notice of Issue 31 going to press and being mailed will be posted here.