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  SEX IS WHAT FIRST INTERESTED DONNA BROGAN, when she was an undergraduate at Gettysburg College, the Kinsey Reports were required reading in psychology.
     “I read the chapters, and it was actually not all that interesting—sexual behavior, blah, blah, blah,” she says. “What interested me most were the appendices on statistical methods. One discussed how difficult it was to get a representative sample of people who would answer sensitive questions. That was more exciting to me than the book itself. There was another appendix about the mathematical and statistical techniques used to analyze the data. That was my first exposure to statistics and sample surveys, and after that, I was hooked.”
     Biostatistics used to be a man’s career, with men making up the majority of experts in university departments. However, in the past few decades, women biostatisticians have found a place of their own in the field. Brogan, for example, is an internationally known expert in the analysis and design of sample surveys and a master teacher of those methods. Her colleagues at the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) include a healthy number of women—Vicki Hertzberg, former chair of the Department of Biostatistics; Elizabeth Halloran, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Analysis; Professor Amita Manatunga, and new recruits such as Lily Zhang and Mary Kelley. More than half of biostatistics students at the RSPH are now women, and Brogan has been a force behind the change. She has led movements of female faculty to fight for equal benefits at both UNC and Emory. Today, she continues to speak up for women, serving on committees of the American Statistical Association to promote women in the field.
       Brogan has not been alone in shaping the course of biostatistics at Emory. The same week she arrived on campus as an associate professor in 1971 so did Michael Kutner. Brogan, never a shrinking violet, got there first and chose the biggest office in Uppergate House, then home to the Department of Biometry at Emory School of Medicine. She and Kutner joined four other doctoral faculty, who provided statistical services for medical school investigators.
     Today, Brogan has retired, and Kutner remains as the Rollins professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. What Kutner remembers most about the early days in the department are the cards—stacks and stacks of punched IBM computer cards that held statistical answers to questions of health and disease. “What took hours then takes seconds now,” he says. “Technology has changed our field incredibly because of advanced computing speed and technology.”
     During the past 40 years, the department has changed in more ways than gender diversity. It is formidable not only in size with 19 doctoral faculty, but also in talent. Last year, it recruited seven new doctoral faculty, two of them senior appointments with key areas of expertise.
     “We used to have a mission to be the best biostatistics department in the South,” says Kutner. “Now we’re aiming to be up there with the best in the country. And if we can keep pace with all that’s happened in just 40 years, I think we can get there.”
     As in its early days, the department still has a strong emphasis on collaborating with faculty in public health and medicine and participating in national and international studies. Indeed, good biostatistics is a foundation for studies in any area of medicine and health. The RSPH biostatistics department focuses on methodologic research as well. “We are ramping up our research capability,” says Kutner. “That’s why we’re hiring people and why we’re hiring primarily research-oriented faculty.”
  When Andre Rogatko and Eugene Huang arrived on campus this past year, there was no haggling over office space. They were both esteemed senior faculty members with well-established research records in two key areas of study—cancer and HIV, respectively.
     Rogatko, who is a Georgia Cancer Coalition Scholar, holds joint appointments—as professor of biostatistics at the RSPH, professor of hematology and oncology at Emory School of Medicine, and associate director for biostatistics research and informatics at the Winship Cancer Institute. He is central to the expanding role that the RSPH is playing at Winship, which has a planning grant from the NCI to work toward status as a comprehensive cancer center. These federally designated centers garner funding, cachet, and the latest technology and clinical trials. “Biostatistics is a key element to achieving this status,” says Kutner. “They need an outstanding biostatistics core to successfully compete, and Dr. Rogatko is making that happen.”
     Former chair of the biostatistics department at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Rogatko has special expertise in statistical methods involving clinical trial design and genetic epidemiology. “Cancer is not like all other areas of research,” he says. “The patients in our studies often are severely ill, and we have to be especially careful of their fragile health in clinical trials.”
       He has developed statistical methods to adjust doses of experimental cancer drugs to patient-specific characteristics, allowing doses to be escalated as quickly as possible while safeguarding against overdose. Four FDA-approved phase I studies have adopted his methods. He also has developed a new summary measure called the Toxicity Index to identify patients on the basis of their overall toxicity experiences. This measure can identify predictors of chemotherapy-related toxicity among patients in clinical trials before they receive an experimental drug.
     Huang, associate professor of biostatistics, strengthens the RSPH research footing in HIV and cancer as well as in outcomes research. Recruited in 2004 from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Huang conducts statistical methodology research focused on survival analysis and covariate measurement error. He has collaborated with medical investigators in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment studies and in cancer.
       “My methods research deals with incomplete or inaccurate observations of outcomes and/or predictors,” he says. “Follow-up data typically are incomplete in clinical studies. Covariate data like CD4 count and viral load in HIV studies and blood pressure in heart disease may be subject to measurement error.” Huang has developed statistical methods to analyze medical cost and quality of life with incomplete follow-up data and to address covariate measurement error with several commonly used regression methods.
     Huang and Rogatko, both esteemed in their fields, add to an already impressive department record. Longtime professors Ira Longini and Elizabeth Halloran are internationally known for developing statistical theories to predict disease transmission and progression. They have worked with the CDC to help plan vaccination strategies for influenza. After the bioterrorist attacks in the fall of 2001, they adapted these strategies to help CDC plan for the threat of bioterrorism using smallpox. More recently, they are contributing their expertise to the interdisciplinary Center for Infectious Disease Analysis, applying statistical modeling to some of today’s most challenging epidemics, including cholera, influenza, and SARS.
     Other faculty members are bringing the power of numbers to a gamut of areas: Michael Haber in infectious diseases, Amita Manatunga in genetic studies, and John Hanfelt and Robert Lyles in epidemiologic studies.

  Thanks to an endowment from the Rollins Foundation three years ago, the biostatistics department has new endowed assistant professorships that are attracting some of the best and the brightest new PhDs in the country. “These junior faculty are key to the department’s future as a methodologic biostatistics research center,” Kutner says. “They are our future.”
     Additionally, new hires during the past five years have added breadth and depth to biostatistics at Emory. Lance Waller, for example, studies statistical patterns of health disparities in cardiovascular disease mortality, environmental justice, the spread of raccoon rabies, and sea turtle nesting behaviors. F. DuBois Bowman specializes in applying statistical methods to medical imaging studies, including PET scans of the brain.
       Although many new faculty are working solely on perfecting statistical methods and analysis, many continue helping scientists across the Woodruff Health Science Center design and interpret studies and clinical trials. Recent recruit Mary Kelley is assistant director of the Biostatistical Consulting Center (BCC) and research assistant professor of biostatistics. Previously, she was a statistical consultant at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked on landmark mental health studies involving schizophrenia and depression.
     “I wear many hats here at Emory,” she says. “I am teaching a statistical computing course, I help direct the BCC, and I serve as departmental statistician for the Department of Psychiatry in the medical school. With a large number of ongoing studies, they need a lot of help managing and analyzing data. I also conduct seminars to train their faculty and fellows in statistical methods.”
     She came to Emory, she says, for the opportunity to teach and work with eminent scientists. “The opportunities for my own personal growth as a biostatistician are enormous here,” Kelley says. “I’ve found myself in a pretty good place—up and coming. Really the sky is the limit.”

Valerie Gregg is a freelance writer in metropolitan Atlanta and the former editor of this magazine.


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