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!

 

Message from our Biostatistics Leadership – COVID19

We hope you are staying safe and healthy during this time. We encourage you to continue taking all the preventative measures recommended by UNC and the CDC.

Please visit the School of Public Health’s official Coronavirus Information Portal for the most recent information and updates: https://sph.unc.edu/global-health/2019-coronavirus-info-portal/

 


HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS ISSUE:

  • BIOS STUDENTS MAKE THE MOST OF A VIRTUAL SUMMER
  • DEPARTMENT WELCOMES NEW FACULTY MEMBER TANYA GARCIA
  • BIOS PROFESSOR WORKS WITH NIH ON COVID-19 STRATEGY
  • 2020 GRADUATE SHARES HOW SHE CELEBRATED REMOTELY
  • BIOSTATISTICS TEAM PUBLISHES COVID-19 RESEARCH IN JOURNAL OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES
  • DELTA OMEGA AWARDEES HONORED

AROUND CAMPUS

Undergrad Volunteers with UNC Cancer Patients

Ali Khan is a junior pursuing a BSPH in Biostatistics

Ali Khan is pursuing a BSPH in Biostatistics at the Gillings School. This past summer he had the opportunity to collaborate on the Patient Navigation COVID-19 Support Call Program for UNC Cancer Patients. This program was created by the Patient and Family Resource Center, which is part of the UNC Cancer Hospital, to address any non-clinical barriers in care that may exist among cancer patients admitted or discharged from the hospital during the pandemic.

As a volunteer, Ali conducted countless support calls with patients in the Hematology-Oncology clinic department. He specifically worked to address any risk factors they may have (practical, transportation, medications, COVID-19 anxiety, housing, education, financial, etc.) and then aided patients in implementing the respective interventions (COVID-19 relief funds, social worker or financial navigator referrals, emotional support). “It was a rewarding experience and provided a unique perspective on the barriers to care outside the physician’s immediate control”, Ali shares.

Following his summer volunteering sessions, Ali felt a desire to combine his recent experience with his strong passion for Biostatistics to further analyze and comprehend the data they had collected during this summer program. Ali, along with his lead nurse navigator and a fellow volunteer, are now developing a program assessment of the Support Call program. Using de-identified patient data, they are summarizing patient risk factors, navigator interventions, and future considerations for the program as the year continues. The team’s manuscript is still being developed and, once completed, will be submitted to the ‘Supportive Care in Cancer’ official journal for approval.


BEYOND CHAPEL HILL

Bios Student Summer Journal

Liz Zarzar shares her experience as a virtual intern with SAS

Last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about nation-wide college shutdowns. Now, the new normal for college students is remote-learning and asynchronous classes for many. Aside from students being required to adjust their academic routines, the pandemic also affected students’ summer plans and jobs. As college students, we are trying to figure out what we want to do with our lives, and this new normal is making the task a bit more difficult. Many students who were once excited about their summer plans were left feeling stressed and disappointed at the end of the previous semester. Several had received notifications that their summer internships or research programs had been moved online, or cancelled entirely.

SAS Institute is a developer of analytics software

This is far from ideal for any student, as summer is traditionally used as a time to explore academic interests outside of the classroom, gain valuable work experience, and get a sense of what certain career paths entail. Summer internships can also be pipelines into future jobs. I have been lucky, as I still had the opportunity to intern at SAS Institute this summer. I am extremely grateful that my internship did not get cancelled, but instead was redesigned to be entirely remote. This was an opportunity to gain some real-world experience while remaining at home. Seems a little bit like an oxymoron, right?

I’ll admit, working remotely took a bit of fun out of the internship. I was pretty excited to take advantage of in-person networking and mentorship events and fully immerse into the SAS work environment. While there was no in-office experience, to maintain some normalcy, the remote internship was still designed to be a 9-5 job Monday-Friday. I worked in the JMP division of SAS making data-driven decisions in the context of marketing and sales. In addition to my manager, I was mentored by 2 new hires that recently graduated college and previously interned at SAS, and we had daily morning meetings. They provided a lot of insight into what I should expect working at a software company, and having them as resources for questions was super helpful. At the end of the summer, I was able to share what I worked on through participation in a virtual Intern Expo held via Zoom, rather than the traditional in-person presentation. I would have never predicted my first job at a large software company would be virtual, but SAS provided me with ample mentorship and professional development opportunities to help me grow and do impactful work.

Liz at her remote home work station

A fellow classmate of mine, Prasiddhi Jain (BSPH Junior), was in a similar boat. She was planning to return to Seattle to intern with Microsoft where she worked as a software engineering intern last summer. While she is thankful Microsoft did not cancelled their internship program, Prasiddhi admits there are a lot of things she missed out on due to the internship being moved online. “Microsoft has a really good networking program, where they pair you with full-time employees on different teams so that interns can get more knowledge regarding company culture and what it is like working at Microsoft full-time. Because a lot of these meetings were hosted over coffee/lunch and will now be completely virtual, I think it will be difficult to properly connect with employees and build lasting relationships like I did last year,” Prasiddhi shared.

Beyond complicating networking with mentors, virtual internships can make it difficult to make meaningful connections with other interns. Prasiddhi recalled that “Meeting new people was the best part of my internship last year, and unfortunately interns weren’t able to do that this year.” That being said, she is confident that Microsoft made the virtual internship experience the best they possibly could. At SAS, I was still able to work closely with 2 other interns every day. We would often video chat via Microsoft teams while working, making the experience much more collaborative and fun. I also found that working virtually actually meant more scheduled meetings with people, since you couldn’t just casually pop into each other’s’ offices if you had a question.

SAS headquarters is located in Cary, North Carolina

SAS also coordinated a number of virtual intern events, including lunch chats with other interns and coffee chats with corporate leaders. One of my favorite intern events I participated in was the hackathon, in which I worked on a team with 4 other interns to create an infographic showcasing a story about one of the UN’s sustainable development goals. My teammates and I used JMP visual analytics to show the global lack of representation of women in government. We were particularly interested in how the United States compared to other nations. This was a great opportunity gaining experience in data-driven storytelling, and I was amazed to see how well SAS ran this event virtually.

Unfortunately, not all internships or research programs were able to transition into a virtual format, causing the opportunities to be cancelled. Nour Zarrouk (BSPH Junior) was set to begin interning at Covance this summer, but found out it was cancelled at the end of the spring semester. “I was devastated. It took me months to find an internship. I was also afraid that if I didn’t get experience this summer that I wouldn’t be able to find a job after graduation. But my family assured me I would be fine” Nour said. Since her plans cleared up, she decided to spend her summer taking an online class to finish her math minor. She also used her free time learning other scripting/coding languages like Python and continued working on her photography passion, being able to finally edit some photos she’s been sitting on for a while.

While COVID-19 changed the outcome of most of our summers and fall semesters, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to explore our interests and add to our skill sets. I was truly surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to a virtual workplace, and I feel I gained just as much from the virtual internship at SAS as I would have in person. I learned a ton about JMP, JSL, and product management, and I also made many meaningful connections. The situation can definitely complicate things, but as Gillings School students we always welcome new and unexpected challenges.


SPOTLIGHT ON FACULTY

Gillings School Welcomes Tanya Garcia

Garcia comes to Carolina from Texas A&M University with an interdisciplinary research agenda that includes national and international collaborations with neuroscientists and biologists, high-impact learning opportunities for students and service work that promotes a future of diverse biostatisticians.

“I was attracted to the cutting-edge research at UNC-Chapel Hill, including work in neurodegenerative diseases and imaging, and the opportunities to work with fun and intelligent researchers and students,” Garcia said.

Tanya Garcia

Biostatistics Professor Tanya Garcia

Her research innovates new statistical methods that solve important neuroscience and biomedical problems and advances the underlying theory of those methods. Her work has contributed to prediction models, model selection for high-dimensional data, regression models with measurement error and mean-covariance modeling for longitudinal data.

Garcia said that her research group aims to enter new frontiers in designing robust, reliable and simple yet powerful disease progression models for neurodegenerative diseases. “Our vision is developing and translating promising statistical methods and models into clinical applications,” she said.

Garcia’s focus on extracting maximum information from large, highly correlated data structures has led to scientific discoveries in neurodegenerative diseases and the gut microbiome. Her teaching integrates research with interactive projects that promote critical thinking.

As a principal investigator, she has attracted over $900,000 in funding grants from the NIH National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Publishing in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Annals of Applied Statistics, and Bioinformatics, Garcia’s research is cited worldwide. She has earned competitive awards, including the 2017-2018 NINDS Mentoring Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Scholars Fellowship; a fully funded, visiting scholar invitation to the University of Sydney in 2012; and the 2011 American Statistical Association Gertrude M. Cox Award (awarded to two of 1,200 applicants in North America).

“I am most excited about training young researchers in biostatistics to play with different ideas and experiment with trying different approaches, even if the end result isn’t what we initially desired,” Garcia said. “This brings me personal and professional satisfaction because I enjoy seeing young researchers grow in their creativity and confidence to pursue difficult challenges.”

See Professor Garcia’s full feature from The Well here.


IMPACTFUL RESEARCH

COVID-19 Strategy – Professor LaVange Working With NIH Director Collins

Groups involved in the ACTIV Public-Private Partnership

In April, it was announced that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a public-private partnership to work on identifying effective treatments for COVID-19, led by NIH Director Francis Collins. This initiative has brought together over a dozen leading biopharmaceutical companies, the Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the European Medicines Agency to work together on developing an international strategy for a research response to the pandemic. This partnership, known as Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV), will develop a collaborative framework for prioritizing vaccine and drug candidates, streamline clinical trials, coordinate regulatory processes, and leverage assets among all partners to rapidly respond to COVID-19. ACTIV also seeks to develop strategies so as to be better prepared in the case of future pandemics. ACTIV is part of the whole-of-government, whole-of-America response the federal government has led to combat COVID-19.

“We need to bring the full power of the biomedical research enterprise to bear on this crisis,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Now is the time to come together with unassailable objectivity to swiftly advance the development of the most promising vaccine and therapeutic candidates that can help end the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

ACTIV has four focus areas, for each a committee consisting of highly motivated senior scientists has been established. The first focus area is to standardize and share preclinical evaluation methods in an open forum that allows for comparison and validation. The second focus area is to prioritize and accelerate clinical evaluation of therapeutic candidates with near-term potential. The next focus area is to maximize clinical trial capacity and effectiveness by connecting existing networks of clinical trials to build capacity and capabilities. The final focus area is to advance vaccine development by creating a collaborative framework to share insights into natural immunity and vaccine candidate-induced immune response.

Dr. Lisa LaVange

Biostatistics Professor Lisa LaVange

Lisa LaVange, Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Biostatistics, is a member of the Therapeutics Clinical Committee and is also co-chairing a Master Protocols subcommittee. In her committee, LaVange is working towards the goals of the second focus area, surrounding prioritizing and testing potential therapeutic agents for COVID-19 that have already been in human clinical trials. This could include agents with either direct-acting or host-directed antiviral activity, including immunomodulators, severe symptom modulators, neutralizing antibodies, or vaccines. After a rigorous scientific review, the prioritization subgroup has developed a complete inventory of around 170 already identified therapeutic candidates that have acceptable safety profiles and varying mechanisms of action. At the beginning of May, the group presented this first list of repurposed agents recommended for inclusion in ACTIV’s master protocol for adaptive clinical trials. From the 39 agents that underwent final prioritization review, there were 6 agents, including immunomodulators and supportive therapies, that the group proposed to move forward into the master protocol clinical trials.

Types of master protocols

“My involvement is due in part to earlier research conducted with Dr. Janet Woodcock while I was at the FDA working on collaborative clinical trials” LaVange says, “these trials were conducted under master protocols, the approach ACTIV is advocating now.” Janet Woodcock, MD, is working closely with ACTIV’s leader Dr. Collins to coordinate all of the research efforts currently underway to test treatments for the virus. Master protocols can be defined as “coordinated efforts to evaluate more than one or two treatments in more than one patient type of disease with the same overall trial structure” or, more simply, “one overarching protocol designed to answer multiple questions”, according to LaVange and Woodcock’s 2017 publication Master Protocols to Study Multiple Therapies, Multiple Diseases, or Both.

To learn more about the work Dr. LaVange and ACTIV are doing, read the JAMA article found here.

Gillings Researchers Identify Strategy For Rapid Scale-up of COVID-19 Testing

Researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the University of California at San Francisco have identified a possible testing model for SARS-CoV-2 that could be used to screen groups of people for COVID-19. This testing could be scaled up to screen 2 to 20 times as many people as an individual test and has the potential to identify positive cases more efficiently than other molecular-based tests currently in use.

“Group testing is a long-standing and well-established method for increasing efficiency of screening, dating back to the 1940s,” said Daniel Westreich, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School. “More recently it has been used to detect acute HIV in North Carolina and elsewhere; we think group testing can play a critical role in scaling up testing for SARS-CoV-2 as well.”

Michael Hudgens

Biostatistics Professor Michael Hudgens

The study, published on June 27 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, includes research from co-first authors Westreich and Christopher Pilcher, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco; as well as co-author Michael Hudgens, PhD, professor of biostatistics at the Gillings School. Pilcher is a former associate professor at the UNC School of Medicine.

One of the most common types of tests for COVID-19 is the nasopharyngeal test, which collects a sample from a single patient’s nasal cavity using a swab and tests it for the presence of viral RNA. While this test is ideal for early identification of those with COVID-19, it can be costly and difficult to test multiple people at once. Questions related to the risk of false negatives have been a primary factor in the health care community’s skepticism of using this testing on large groups of patients who have a low chance of having the virus.

But the need to scale up testing is crucial, especially for large populations who are at daily risk for exposure to COVID-19, such as essential workers, first responders, and health care providers. Such testing would aid in the reopening of schools, day cares and other services that have been impacted by stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions. The ability to test large numbers of people for the virus is also critical for researchers who need to identify the prevalence of low-symptom and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.

By examining the methods of blood banks and HIV testing programs, the research team proposed a potential strategy for group testing that involved screening a pool of nasopharyngeal test specimens for SARS-CoV-2. If the pool of specimens came back negative, all of those tested in the pool could be considered negative. If a pool came back positive, it could be re-tested to identify which individual sample was infected.

Read the full story on the Gillings School website here.


GET TO KNOW BIOS

Grad Snapshot

Recent Graduate Celebrates Her Accomplishments

Jane Williford graduated in May with a BSPH in Biostatistics

Mother’s Day weekend marked what would have been graduation for many Gillings School students. Instead of turning their tassels in Kenan Stadium on May 10, the Class of 2020 went to Carolina in their minds for graduation day as the campus remained closed due to precautions taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Although this was not the typical graduation celebration many seniors had hoped for, graduates made the best of the situation.

Biostatistics BSPH graduate Jane Williford shares with us her highlights from her final year as a Carolina undergrad.

“When thinking back on my Senior Year, despite classes transitioning online after spring break, I have an astute sense of fulfillment and gratitude” Williford says, “A lot of this can be attributed to my involvement in GlobeMed. After three years with this organization, this year I had the privilege to act as co-president, taking a greater leadership role in fighting to strengthen the movement for global health equity. I have loved feeling so connected to the passionate members of the student body, while having the space to explore niche public health topics outside of the classroom setting. Having this hodgepodge of future doctors, nurses, economists, anthropologists, statisticians, public health professionals, and more, who are all fighting for global health equity alongside community partners, has been an inspiring and meaningful part of my undergraduate experience.”

She also emphasizes the lasting impact working on her Senior Honors Thesis with her advisor Dr. Annie Green Howard had. Williford shares, “I was lucky enough to have an incredibly intelligent and supportive advisor guiding me throughout this process, and teaching me so much along the way. We worked with Carolina Population Center data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, exploring the heterogeneity of obesity, including differences in body fat distribution and the duration and timing of weight change. We then looked to see if these patterns in obesity were associated with differential risk of dyslipidemia.”

RTI provides research, development, and technical services

“Working with real world survey data while in my classes concurrently learning more about survey statistics and study design, inspired me to seek employment where I could continue to do research utilizing biostatistics post-graduation.”, she says. In June, Williford joined RTI International as an entry level Biostatistician.

Williford, like many other graduating students, had a hard time saying goodbye to the place she had called home for the last four years. She shared that, “Although it was initially hard to feel a sense of closure surrounding my time at Carolina, putting on my full graduation regalia and taking the traditional senior photos, starting at the Old Well, taking a pit-stop at Rosenau Hall, and ending up at the Bell Tower, let it sink in that I was actually leaving campus as a student.”

Unable to have grad parties or celebratory gatherings, this year’s graduates were required to get creative with their commemorations. Williford describes her celebration as small but rewarding nonetheless – “I celebrated my would have been commencement day by baking my mom a strawberry Mother’s Day cake with my siblings, having a Turkish-American fusion cookout, and watching University Graduation videos (Dr. Monaco’s video was a fan favorite). The day was not what I had originally imagined, but was filled with family time and gratitude for health, employment, graduation, and outstanding mothers. I celebrated my accomplishments by also celebrating those who raised me, alongside the delicious food I was raised on.”


DEPARTMENT DASHBOARD

Yuchao Jiang Honored with Student-Nominated Award

Dr. Yuchao Jiang

Professor Yuchao Jiang

Bios is proud to announce that Yuchao Jiang, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics has been awarded the student-nominated Teaching Excellence and Innovation Award. This award honors faculty members who inspire students and enhance student learning through creative, engaging, and innovative teaching methods. Those honored with this award support student success both in the classroom and throughout their careers as public health professionals.

Just one faculty member from each department within the Gillings School of Global Public Health receives the award annually. Nominations are sourced solely from students, demonstrating the impact Professor Jiang’s teaching has had. The most common course Jiang teaches is BIOS 785, Statistical Methods for Gene Expression Analysis, which will be offered again in the Fall 2020 semester.

In addition to his work in the biostatistics department, Jiang is also an assistant professor at the Department of Genetics at UNC. He is also a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Jiang Lab’s primary research interests lie in statistical modeling, method development and data analysis in genetics and genomics. His current research is focused on developing statistical methods and computational algorithms to better utilize and analyze different types of next-generation sequencing data under various setting, with application to data from large-scale cohort studies of human health and disease.

Bios Professor Uses Survival-Convolution Models to Predict COVID-19 Cases

Dr. Donglin Zeng

Professor Donglin Zeng

Professor of Biostatistics Donglin Zeng, PhD has published a method paper along with his collaborators entitled “Survival-Convolution Models for Predicting COVID-19 Cases and Assessing Effects of Mitigation Strategies”. The aim of his paper was to predict the COVID-19 disease course and compare the effectiveness of mitigation measures across countries to inform policy decision, making use of a robust and parsimonious survival-convolution model.

The team accounted for transmission during a pre-symptomatic incubation period and used a time-varying effective reproduction number (Rt ) to reflect the temporal trend of transmission and change in response to a public health intervention. They estimated the intervention effect on reducing the transmission rate using a natural experiment design and quantifying uncertainty by permutation. In China and South Korea, they predicted the entire disease epidemic using only early phase data (2–3 weeks after the outbreak). A fast rate of decline in Rt was observed, and adopting mitigation strategies early in the epidemic was effective in reducing the transmission rate in these two countries. The nationwide lockdown in Italy did not accelerate the speed at which the transmission rate decreases. In the United States, Rt significantly decreased during a 2-week period after the declaration of national emergency, but it declined at a much slower rate afterwards. The full method paper with the team’s complete findings can be found here.

Their model, labelled Columbia-UNC, was also included in the CDC forecast found here.

Professor Zeng has received a one-year NIGMS Administrative Supplement to conduct research for COVID-19 prediction and disease risk prediction using EHRs data.

Hudgens and Shook-Sa Publish COVID-19 Research in the Journal of Infectious Diseases

Hudgens and Shook-Sa publish in the Journal of Infectious Diseases

Professor Michael Hudgens and postdoctoral research associate Bonnie Shook-Sa have both had COVID-19 related papers published recently in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Hudgens’s paper, entitled Group Testing for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome—Coronavirus 2 to Enable Rapid Scale-up of Testing and Real-Time Surveillance of Incidence, can be found here.

Shook-Sa’s paper, entitled Estimation Without Representation: Early Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Seroprevalence Studies and the Path Forward, can be found here.

Biostatistics Team Present Virtual COVID Seminar

Hudgens and Shook-Sa present “Statistical Considerations in the Design and Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 Prevalence Studies”

In July, Professor Michael Hudgens and postdoctoral research associate Bonnie Shook-Sa presented an online seminar to the Gillings community on Statistical Considerations in the design and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 Prevalence studies.

SARS-CoV-2 PCR and serology tests are critical tools for identifying COVID-19 infections, modeling transmission dynamics, estimating mortality rates and guiding policy surrounding re-opening efforts. There are a number of statistical considerations regarding the use of these tests and the design of studies aiming to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19.

The pair discussed challenges faced by ongoing COVID-19 prevalence studies related to study design, test performance, and generalizability of results. They also explored issues surrounding sampling frame development and adaptive sampling approaches. A specimen pooling model, which may facilitate rapid scale-up of diagnostic testing, was also presented to the 100+ attendees.


AWARDS/HONORS/FACULTY NEWS

Bios Professor Naim Rashid Awarded Research Grant from the Alliance

Dr. Naim Rashid

Professor Naim Rashid

Professor Naim Rashid was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology Foundation. This two-year award is entitled “Machine learning methods for biomarker-driven optimal treatment selection in metastatic colorectal cancer”. Professor Rashid is Co-Principal Investigator for the grant, alongside Co-Principal Investigator Federico Innocenti, from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, more commonly known as the Alliance, is a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research consortium whose mission is to reduce the impact of cancer. They seek to unite a broad community of scientists and clinicians from many disciplines, committed to discovering, validating and disseminating effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of cancer. The Alliance develops and conducts clinical trials with promising new cancer therapies, and utilizes the best science to develop optimal treatment and prevention strategies for cancer, as well as research methods to alleviate side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. The Alliance is part of the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and serves as a research base for the NCI Community Research Oncology Program (NCORP).

Alliance seeks to reduce the impact of cancer by uniting a community of scientists and clinicians

Professor Rashid’s award is to support research focused on addressing high priority research areas for the Alliance. As announced in November of 2018 by the Alliance, these priorities including building an infrastructure to enable studies improving the value of cancer care, developing blood-based biomarkers to address treatment response and characterize treatment resistance, developing treatments for tumor genomic subsets, and simplifying data requirements and data collection. His proposal develops individualized treatment rules to recommend optimal standard of care treatment in metastatic colorectal cancer. To do this, he will be leveraging high dimensional genomic data from a recent clinical trial of over 2,000 patients. The ultimate goal of this funded work is to develop a CLIA-certified assay for prospective treatment selection in clinical trials.

In addition to Professor Rashid’s grant from Alliance, he has also received recent recognition for his team’s pancreatic cancer subtyping method PurIST, which was recently integrated into two major research programs from a large cancer organization. The collaboration will combine GeneCentric’s single patient RNA-based report, including its Pancreatic Cancer Subtype Profiler (PurIST™) for subtyping pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma tumors (PDAC), with PanCAN’s extensive collection of patient molecular and outcomes data generated through its scientific and clinical programs. Read the full press announcement here.

Hudgens’s Infectious Disease Prevention Research Grant Renewed

Michael Hudgens

Professor Michael Hudgens

Department of Biostatistics has learned that Professor Hudgens’s NIH Research Project Grant has been renewed a second time for another five year period. Hudgens’s project initially began in December of 2009, and has now been extended to continue until May of 2025. The project, titled Causal Inference in Infectious Disease Prevention Studies, has an overall objective of developing statistical methods for quantifying the effects of interventions to prevent infectious diseases. The primary motivating examples for this research are studies of vaccines, although the developed methods will be general and have applications in other settings.

One particularly significant and challenging problem in vaccine studies entails assessing indirect (spillover) effects of vaccination. For vaccines that are costly or do not afford complete protection from disease when an individual is vaccinated, evaluating indirect effects (or herd immunity) is important in policy considerations about vaccine introduction and utilization. Failure to account for herd immunity can lead to incorrect conclusions regarding the public health benefit of a vaccine. Drawing inference about herd immunity is non-standard because indirect effects measure the effect of vaccinating one individual on another individual’s health outcome. In the nomenclature of causal inference, this is known as “interference.” That is, interference is said to be present if the treatment (e.g., vaccination) of one individual affects the outcome of another individual. In this grant, innovative statistical methods will be developed for drawing inference about the effects of a treatment or exposure when there is possibly interference between individuals.

For each of the project’s aims, the theoretical properties of the proposed statistical methods will be established. Simulation studies will be conducted to evaluate the performance of the proposed methods over a wide range of realistic settings. The developed methods will be used to analyze data from several large infectious disease prevention studies, providing new insights into the different effects of vaccines for cholera, influenza, and other pathogens, and malaria bed nets. The resulting inferences will have straightforward interpretations in terms of the expected number of infections or cases of disease averted due to the intervention.

“We are excited to receive another five years of funding to continue developing these methods, which are particularly timely in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic”, Hudgens shares.

Read more about Hudgens’ research here.

2020 Delta Omega Inductees Honored

The Theta Chapter of Delta Omega at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health had five new inductees from the Department of Biostatistics in April. Delta Omega is an honor society for public health with a mission of promoting excellence in contributing to the field of public health as well as advancing the health of people in all aspects. A membership invitation to Delta Omega reflects the dedication of an individual to the field of public health and to advancement of the health of everyone. Members are inducted into one of three categories: students, faculty, or alumni. Election to the honor society is based on outstanding performance – scholarship in students, teaching and research in faculty members, and community service in alumni. Induction into Delta Omega is intended not only to recognize merit of the inductee, but to also encourage the individual to further excel in future public health work.

Each chapter may induct up to 20% of its graduating student body. All graduate students must be in the top 25% academically to be suitable for induction. This year’s student inductees are Owen Leete, Bonnie Shook-Sa, and Elaine Kearney. Chapters may also induct up to 5 faculty members, or 3% of the full-time faculty, whichever may be less. Fei Zou was this year’s faculty inductee. Additionally, each chapter can induct up to 5 alumni annually based on their work in the practice of public health. These inductees serve as a model for future graduate of the school. This year’s alumni inductee was Annie Green Howard. Congratulations to all of this year’s new Delta Omega members!

Faculty announcements

Kosorok returns full-time to teaching and research

On June 30, Michael Kosorok stepped down as chair of the Department of Biostatistics after 14 years of dedicated service. We are grateful for all that Professor Kosorok has done to strengthen the department during his leadership tenure. Professor Kosorok remains with the department as a distinguished professor, and plans to focus most of his time on teaching and research.

Interim Department chairs announced

While the search for a new Department Chair is underway, Professor Jianwen Cai and Professor Lisa LaVange are serving as Interim Co-Chairs.

Bios Welcomes New Faculty Members

Joining us this fall as an associate professor of Biostatistics is Tanya Garcia, profiled above, and postdoctoral research assistant Bonnie Shook-Sa has joined us as an assistant professor housed at the Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center (profiled in the next BiosBeat issue).

New addition to the business office

We are excited to welcome Wesley Winkelman as he joins us as the new Assistant Department Chair for Finance and Administration.

ASA inducts new fellows

Anastasia Ivanova, PhD, Professor of Biostatistics and Richard Zink, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, have been inducted as fellows of the American Statistical Association.


IMPORTANT STUDENT DATE REMINDERS

  • Last day of classes for undergraduates – November 17
  • Thanksgiving recess begins – November 26

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

PLEASE NOTE: Given the recent events regarding COVID-19, the annual BiosRhythms is on hold. Issue 31 will not be sent until further notice