New Biostatistics & Data Management Core Helping Boost Research at UH Manoa

Health studies make headlines nearly every day—and rightly so, since most of us want to read about ways to live healthier lives. But what happens when the newest studies seem to yield conflicting findings?

“You really have a medical impact if you publish a study,” said Dr. John Chen of the University of Hawai’i’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), “and you certainly do not want to mislead the public. Unfortunately, an alarming number of biomedical studies, even published studies, do not seem to have a sound study design, or have handled their data inappropriately.”

Dr. Chen and his team of statistical professionals, the new Biostatistics & Data Management Core at JABSOM, are available to collaborate with investigators on grants and to provide research design and statistical analysis support to basic science, clinical and translational researchers. Their research design and data analysis skills can be an enormous help to researchers.

“We can help researchers from very early on, at the conception of a study. As statisticians, we have been trained to think about randomization, bias, blinding, confounding, concepts which are critical to an investigation that biomedical researchers may or may not have thought about. Certainly as professional biostatisticians, data analysis is also our bread-and-butter. To have us handle your data management and analysis is like having CPAs doing your tax returns. It might cost you a little bit, but will be worry free,” said Chen.

Even better, professional biostatistics and data management support can help increase the odds that a biomedical researcher gets the opportunity in the first place to embark on a research investigation.

“A researcher’s chance of receiving funding is improved dramatically when sound statistical reasoning and design, and proper data analysis plan are employed to support the investigator,” Chen explained.  The availability and strength of biostatistics and research design expertise has been shown to result in substantive increases in the research funding and the quality of biological and health sciences research at academic centers across the country. Chen points to institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, with more than 140 biostatisticians, and even smaller universities like Wake Forest, which has over 60.  Chen’s new team at JABSOM currently includes three other Ph.D. consultants, Hyeong Jun Ahn, James Davis, and Guangxiang (George) Zhang.

Dr. Chen's group drew a large audience in a presentation on February 23, in an entertaining and informative session sprinkled with frequent laughter.

Since the reopening of the core, various types of service requests have been coming in. “We’re like a good plumber,” Chen said with a smile. “People come to us with different problems all along the research chain, from study design to interpreting findings, and we try our best to help them all go through smoothly.”

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core is trying to reach out to as many people as it can, in and out of academia.  “With strong collaborations and support from biostatistics groups at the University of Hawai’i Cancer Center, the Department of Public Health Sciences, and Hawai’i State Department of Health, we want to build a ‘Hawai’i Biostat ‘Ohana’ to encourage more communication and collaboration among biostatistical professionals working in our islands,” Chen said.  “We want to help produce the next generation of strong, independent investigators, research leaders and mentors in Hawai’i.”

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core is located on the top floor of the Medical Education Building in Kaka`ako. It’s worth the elevator ride to get there.

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core website is at: http://biostat.jabsom.hawaii.edu/

Pictured are members of the Biostatistics & Data Management Core: Guangxiang (George) Zhang, Ph.D.; John J. Chen, Ph.D., Director; James Davis, Ph.D., Karli Taniguchi; Hyeong Jun Ahn, PhD.

 Story by Tina Shelton. Group photo by Iris Chen.

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