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:

Gillings School Biostatistics Student Seminar Series
Bios Impactful Research
David Couper Profile
Bilsborrow in Hanoi
Gillings PhD Student Butera Recieves Honor and Award to Travel to ASA National Meetings
New Award for Cancer Research

Important Dates


Sixth-year Biostatistics PhD student Eric Van Buren presenting

BSA Seminar Series Launched

The 2019 Gillings School Biostatistics Student Seminar Series kicked off with two presentations by sixth-year Biostatistics PhD students. Eric Van Buren presented his research on singe-cell RNA sequencing and Nicole Butera demonstrated her work with missing data and longitudinal change in biomarkers.

The student seminar series provides an opportunity for students to present their dissertation or GRA research to other students and faculty. Through the series, students gain practice in presentation and leading discussions about their work. Additionally, students are able to engage with their peers through their research and understand different research methods.

Seminars are held on the first Tuesday of every month from 3:30-4:30. Find more information about the series here.

on the first Tuesday of every month from 3:30-4:30. Find more information about the series here.


Circulation Journal Report – Annual Statistical Update

Assistant Professor of Biostatistics Matthew Loop recently co-authored the chapter on high blood pressure for the 2019 American Heart Association’s Statistics Update.

As the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health, the American Heart Association publishes the definitive statistical update annually to provide a comprehensive resource of the most current data, relevant scientific findings and assessment of the impact of cardiovascular disease nationally and globally. The annual update represents a compilation of the newest, most relevant statistics on heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular risk factors impacting cardiovascular health and is gathered in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death globally. This year’s reported prevalence of cardiovascular disease is a significant increase in previous years, mainly driven by the way high blood pressure is defined.


UNC Bios Team Works to Improve HIV Treatments

Research conducted by Sarah Reifeis, a graduate research assistant and Biostatistics PhD student and Michael Hudgens, Professor of Biostatistics and Director of the Biostatistics Core of the UNC Center for AIDS Research, was recently published in The Lancet. The research assesses the feasibility of controlled trials based on the incidence of HIV, enrollment, retention, uptake of the intervention, and the efficacy of integrated and flexible interventions. The paper, “A Scalable, Integrated Intervention to Engage People Who Inject Drugs in HIV Care and Medication Assisted-Treatment (HPTN 074): a Randomized, Controlled Phase 3 Feasibility and Efficacy Study” was funded by the US National Institutes of Health.

“Right now we have highly effective antiretroviral therapy medications for suppressing HIV, yet many people living with HIV are still not engaging in care,” Sarah Reifeis said. “The HPTN 074 study contributes to solving this problem by focusing on people living with HIV who inject drugs and assessing the feasibility of an integrated intervention to get people into both HIV care and substance use treatment.”


Bios Faculty Collaborates with Turkish Team on Study in Nature Communications

Assistant Professor of Biostatistics, Yuchao Jiang co-authored a paper published in the Nature Communications Journal with Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar as well as other researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill and Sabanci University in Turkey. The paper, “Differential Damage and Repair of DNA-Adducts Induced by Anti-Cancer Drug Cisplatin across Mouse Organs” provides a potential approach to studying drug resistance and for tailoring cancer chemotherapy regimens.

Nature Communications Journal publishes high-quality research from all areas of the natural sciences, representing important advances of significance to specialists within each field.


David Couper, PhD

Dr. David Couper

Position: Professor, at the CSCC

Teach: BIOS 662

Time at the Gillings School: 20 years

What I do (and why I love it):

I coordinate large multi-center studies. I love it because of the opportunities to work with and learn from many outstanding investigators in various parts of the country.  I also love working with our dedicated staff who consistently go above and beyond what I ask of them.

First job or internship I had was:

Naval officer (a conscript in the South African Navy).  After a 3-month officers’ training course I spent the rest of the two years as an operations research analyst working mostly on “secret” projects.  Conscripts were not supposed to receive “secret” or “top secret” clearances, so I joke that I had to cover up any reports I wrote while I was writing them in case I inadvertently saw something I was not cleared to see.


Gillings School Professor Bilsborrow at Vietnam National University of Agriculture

Dr. Bilsborrow presenting in Hanoi, Vietnam

Richard Bilsborrow, Professor of Biostatistics, recently presented the findings from his research in agriculture and forestry at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA) in Hanoi, Vietnam. The paper, “Tropical deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon followed by my more recent research on the effects of tax incentive payments (PES) to increase forest cover in China and stimulate small farmers to modify their livelihoods” was presented to lecturers, researchers and students of the university.

Also in attendance were representatives from the International Cooperation Office, leaders and international cooperation assistants of the Faculties of Land Management, Economics and Rural Development, and Environment. The audience raised questions regarding the issues of land use in agriculture and the forest cover rate in Ecuador, and the effects of socio-economic factors and forest planting subsidies on deforestation in China.

Following the visit, both Bilsborrow and the VNUA staff reiterated their commitment to working together on joint training and research in the future.


Biostatistics PhD Student recognized by the American Statistical Association

Biostatistics PhD student Nicole Butera was selected for the Young Investigators Award by the American Statistical Association Section on Statistics in Epidemiology. Nicole will travel to the 2019 Denver Joint Statistical Meetings to present her paper, “A Doubly Robust Method to Handle Missing Multilevel Outcome Data with Applications to the China Health and Nutrition Survey.” As a part of the award, Nicole will receive a stipend for travel and will be presented with a certificate at the meeting.


Biostatistics Professor Jiang Awarded Grant for Cancer Research

Yuchao Jiang, assistant professor of biostatistics, received research funding through the inaugural round of Computational Medicine Pilot Grant Awards. The funding is provided by the UNC Computational Medicine Program and the UNC School of Medicine Office of Research.

Jiang, who also has an appointment in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics and is a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will be co-principal investigator for the project, “Single-Cell Omics Analyses for Assessing Genomic, Transcriptomic and Epigenomic Heterogeneity in Cancer.”

He and his co-principal Qing Zhang, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, will develop new statistical methods and computational algorithms to assess heterogeneity in tumors. Their goal is to facilitate understanding of tumor progression and metastasis, aid biomarker discovery for diagnosis and tailor personalized treatment.

The Computational Medicine Pilot Grant Awards program sought collaborative proposals from research areas in cognitive computing/machine learning; image analysis/computer vision; computational and mathematical modeling; bioinformatics and computational genomics; health informatics and network analysis.

Read more about the award here.


Bios Plans to Mark 70th Aniversary – Save the Date

In celebration of the Department of Biostatistics’ 70th anniversary, the department is hosting a conference featuring Precision Health.

The Biostatistics’ 70th Anniversary Precision Health Conference will include speakers representing faculty, alumni, and students, and will take place on October 28th and 29th at the Carolina Club in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.

More information regarding this event will be made available on BiosBeat as the event date approaches.

Important Student Date Reminders

2019 Minority Health Conference

The 40th Annual Minority Health Conference is being held February 22nd, 2019 at the William and Ida Friday Center. The Minority Health Conference is the largest and longest running student-led health conference in the country.

The conference aims to raise awareness around health disparities and mobilize students, academics, and community members to take action for change. Started in 1977 by the Minority Student Caucus, the conference is nationally recognized and respected, attracting more than 500 attendees each year and hundreds more who view it via webcast.

Read more here.

NOTE: Watch soon for the BiosRhythms 2018 issue – we’ve moved to January publishing timeline.


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

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

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