Ibrahim named Alumni Distinguished Professor

February 28, 2006
Photograph of Joseph Ibrahim, PhD

Photograph of Joseph Ibrahim, PhD

UNC School of Public Health Biostatistics Professor Joseph Ibrahim, PhD, has been named the recipient of an Alumni Distinguished Professorship by the Provost of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, effective March 1.

The appointment, approved by the UNC Board of Trustees on Feb. 23, is one of the University’s highest honors and recognizes Ibrahim’s exceptional record as a scholar, his distinguished record as a teacher and his model service to the profession.

Ibrahim also was appointed faculty advisor for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of its Biostatistics and Data Management Core.

“Dr. Ibrahim is a cutting-edge biostatistical researcher who has the rare ability to undertake highly original methodologic work while also serving as a collaborative member of research teams,” said Dr. Barbara K. Rimer, dean of the UNC School of Public Health. “He is a great asset to our School and our university, and this honor is well-deserved.”

Ibrahim’s research areas include Bayesian inference (a statistical framework used to analyze data), genomics, missing data problems, and cancer. He has been a leader in the design and analysis of cancer clinical trials and has over twelve years of experience working in such trials at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In addition to planning and analysis of many melanoma clinical trials, Ibrahim has developed a cure rate model to estimate the proportion of patients cured by therapy. The application of the cure rate model to melanoma clinical trials has provided new insights into the potential for cure and changed the direction of the statistical activities of numerous cancer clinical trial centers including the melanoma committee in the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), one of the most influential clinical trial groups in the United States. The cure rate model is becoming the standard in the design and analysis of melanoma clinical trials and may potentially have a major effect on the treatment of all chronic diseases on which a fraction of the patients are being cured.

“The idea of the cure rate model is to determine if the survival distribution of patients appears to plateau on long-term follow-up,” Ibrahim said. “It is possible that some therapies may have longer median survival rates, but fewer ‘cures’ while other therapies may have shorter median survival rates but high ‘cure’ rates. This type of statistical modeling allows us to determine the difference.”

In his work on missing data, Ibrahim has developed a novel and general implementation of an algorithm for missing data problems called “EM by the Method of Weights.” Following its development, Ibrahim collaborated with Dr. Cyrus Mehta of Cytel Software Corporation to incorporate the new methodology into several commercial statistical software packages, including SAS, S-plus, and EGRET.

Another significant area of research for Ibrahim has been in genomics, and, in particular, the analysis of DNA micaroarray data. Ibrahim was one of the first researchers to introduce model-based methods for determining differential gene expression in genomics studies.

A prolific author, Ibrahim has published 131 research papers during his 17-year academic career, most in top statistical journals. He has also published 14 refereed book chapters and written two advanced graduate-level books on Bayesian survival analysis and Monte Carlo methods in Bayesian computation.

Ibrahim leads the biostatistics cores for two large multidisciplinary grants: the UNC Specialized Program of Research Excellence – or SPORE – in Gastrointestinal Cancer and the UNC Program Project in Systems Biology of Melanoma. In his new capacity, he will direct the Biostatistics and Data Management Core Facility for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Dr. Ibrahim’s appointment is essential for the Cancer Center,” said Dr. H. Shelton Earp III, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine and pharmacology. “His superb methodological research will keep our clinical and genomic efforts at the forefront. At the same time, he is an experienced, collaborative biostatistician who will make sure our faculty from the basic, clinical, and population sciences avail themselves of the best analysis tools.”

A dedicated teacher and student mentor, Ibrahim wrote and won an NIH Training grant last spring titled “Biostatistics for Genomics and Cancer.” This prestigious grant provides funding for five pre-doctoral and two post-doctoral UNC students to study biostatistics.

Additionally, Dr. Ibrahim has played an important role in departmental and professional service. He is the Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Applied Statistics and Bayesian Analysis. He has been an Associate Editor for Biometrics and Lifetime Data Analysis. He also has served on several National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) Study Sections, including Epidemiology of Cancer (EPIC) and Biostatistical Methods and Research Design (BMRD), and has been a regular member on both EPIC and BMRD. He has taught several short courses in Monte Carlo Methods in Bayesian Computation, Bayesian Survival Analysis, and Missing Data in Regression Models, at the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM), International Biometric Society Eastern North American Region (ENAR) as well as the Western North American Region (WNAR).

He is an elected fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS), and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI).

Alumni Distinguished Professorships are made possible by donations from University alumni and recognize professors whose outstanding teaching and research activities ameliorate the quality and the stature of the University.

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For further information please contact Ramona DuBose either by phone at 919-966-7467 or by e-mail at ramona_dubose@unc.edu.