Passing the torch

Lance Waller and Michael Kutner

Lance Waller (left) Rollins Professor and Chair of biostatistics and bioinformatics, spoke at a reception honoring his predecessor, Michael Kutner. Among other mementos, Kutner received a box of Special K as a token of affection from faculty and students who call him "Dr. K." The school also created the Michael H. Kutner Fund to support the professional development of biostatistics students.

Lance Waller and Michael Kutner have much in common.


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Both have spent their careers identifying and quantifying patterns of disease occurrence. Their life's work is more closely aligned now that Waller succeeds Kutner as Rollins Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics.

Waller leads a department that has become integral to clinical and scientific research throughout the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. "Emory researchers in a range of disciplines, including predictive health, oncology, and HIV/AIDS, increasingly turn to biostatistics to aid their research efforts," says RSPH Dean James Curran.

Waller's own research involves the assessment of spatial clustering to identify and track disease occurrence, linking spatial statistics and geographic information systems to map disease patterns, statistical assessments to understand differences between environmental exposure and risk, and hierarchical methods for modeling small-area health statistics.

"The most effective programs in biostatistics grow and adapt in concert with new measurement methods and the new research possibilities enabled by them," says Waller. "Making sense of complex data in accurate, reliable, and interpretable ways is our primary goal."

Waller also serves as associate director of the Center for Comprehensive Informatics (CCI), based in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. Through the CCI, the RSPH collaborates with researchers in medicine, nursing, and other disciplines at Emory and those at institutions like Georgia Tech to capture and analyze biomedical data. The department began working with the CCI during Kutner’s tenure as chair, prompting the addition of the word "bioinformatics" to its name.

Such changes are nothing new in Emory biostatistics. In 1971, Kutner joined the Department of Biometry in the School of Medicine. When the department moved to the RSPH in 1990, so did Kutner as director of the Division of Biostatistics and the school’s first associate dean for academic affairs. He left in 1994 to build the epidemiology and biostatistics department at the Cleveland Clinic. After returning to the RSPH in 2000, he was appointed Rollins Professor and Chair in 2004.

Although he has stepped down as chair, Kutner will continue to teach and conduct research with the Emory Center for Health in Aging, the Atlanta VA Medical Center, and other partners. He plans to revise his textbooks on Applied Linear Regression Models and Applied Linear Statistical Models. Just recently, he added the 2009 Mu Sigma Rho Statistical Education Award to his long list of national honors.

To recognize his contributions to his profession and the RSPH, the school created the Michael H. Kutner Fund to support the professional development of master’s and doctoral students.

"I'm thrilled to turn the department chair over to Dr. Waller," says Kutner. "I'm confident that he will do an excellent job in taking our department to new and greater heights."

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