VUMC’s Department of Biostatistics marks 20 yearsOct. 4, 2023, 1:42 PM
by Paul Govern
Speakers with a head for numbers were on the bill Sept. 29 at Langford Auditorium as the Department of Biostatistics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center marked its 20th anniversary with a half-day symposium and research poster session.
There was a mix of inhouse and guest speakers, the latter hailing from Harvard University, the University of Washington, the University of Pennsylvania, and CRAB (also known as Cancer Research and Biostatistics).
The event was titled “Ethical Healthcare Through Innovations in Biostatistics: Advancing Informative Analysis, Data Coordination, and Health Equity.”
VUMC’s biostatisticians were initially housed in the Department of Preventive Medicine, where by 2000 they numbered six. Rapid growth followed the faculty recruitment in 2003 of Frank Harrell, PhD, as the inaugural chair of the new freestanding Department of Biostatistics.
Six years ago, when Harrell stepped down and the current chair, Yu Shyr, PhD, assumed the leadership post, the department employed 82 faculty and staff. Today the department employs 53 primary faculty and 76 staff, the latter including 51 analyst-researchers, 15 information technology staff and 10 administrative staff.
In the past decade, department members have published some 4,000 peer-reviewed papers, typically in collaboration with research teams across VUMC. The Vanderbilt Biostatistics Data Coordinating Center provides design and analysis, data management and tool development services to a broad range of projects, including multicenter clinical trials and observational studies.
In 2005 the department began hosting free daily biostatistics clinics for Vanderbilt and Meharry Medical College investigators.
The department’s graduate program welcomed its first students in 2011. Though it’s smaller and newer than most programs in the top 15, it’s considered one of the best biostatistics programs in the country, placing 13th in the most recent U.S. News & World Report survey (in a five-way tie with Brown University, Duke University, Yale University and University of Texas MD Anderson).
“Truly, this department is a mainstay of team science throughout Vanderbilt, and through collaborations nationwide and internationally,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Chief Scientific and Strategy Officer, in opening the symposium. “Teamwork makes the dream work and what a team this department is.”
Speakers at the symposium were:
- Ellen Wright Clayton, MD, JD, Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics, and professor of Law, Vanderbilt;
- John Crowley, PhD, Cancer Research and Biostatistics, Seattle;
- Peter Embi, MD, MS, professor and chair, Biomedical Informatics, VUMC;
- Patrick Heagerty, PhD, professor of Biostatistics, University of Washington;
- Yaa Kumah-Crystal, MD, MPH, MS, associate professor, Biomedical Informatics and Pediatrics, VUMC;
- Xihong Lin, PhD, professor of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health;
- Bradley Malin, PhD, Accenture Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Biostatistics, and Computer Science, Vanderbilt;
- Nandita Mitra, PhD, professor of Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine;
- Wesley Self, MD, MPH, Senior Vice President for Clinical Research, VUMC;
- Yu Shyr, PhD, Harold L. Moses Chair in Cancer Research and chair, Department of Biostatistics, VUMC; and
- Yaomin Xu, PhD, assistant professor, Biostatistics and Biomedical Informatics, VUMC.
At the poster session following the symposium, the People’s Choice prize went to Dan Byrne, MS, Henry Domenico, MS, Shannon Walker, MD, and Ryan Moore, MS, for their poster, entitled “Artificial Intelligence for Improved Patient Outcomes — The Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial is the Secret Sauce.”
The department’s anniversary celebration also included the unveiling of a portrait of Harrell by portrait artist Igor Babailov.
Besides Harrell, Shyr and Babailov, speakers at the Sept. 28 unveiling, held at an event center near Vanderbilt, included Pietenpol and Gordon Bernard, MD, the Melinda Owen Bass Professor of Medicine, who recently stepped down as Executive Vice President for Research at VUMC and senior associate dean for clinical sciences in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
Next June the Department of Biostatistics will host the International Chinese Statistical Association’s Applied Statistics Symposium, with more than 500 visitors anticipated.