Interdisciplinary Grant in Biostatistics



Program in Quantitative Genomics (PQG): The PQG is a HSPH-wide program launched by Dean Barry Bloom in the fall of 2007. The PQG co-directors are Xihong Lin, John Quackenbush (PIs/Directors on this application), and Peter Kraft (Associate Director of this training grant) and Winston Hide (Associate Director of this training grant) serving as the Scientific Director of the PQG-managed HSPH Bioinformatics Core. The core philosophy of the PGQ and many of its initiatives are concordant with those of this training grant. Briefly,

  • The mission of the PQG is to improve health through an interdisciplinary study of genetics, behavior, environment and medicine through the development and application of quantitative methods, especially for high dimensional "omics" data, as well as the training of quantitative genomic scientists;
  • The PQG has an external advisory board (EAB) consisting of a distinguished and diverse group of researchers in quantitative genomics who have recently reviewed our training program and made suggestions incorporated in this application;
  • The PQG has over 30 faculty from multiple departments in HSPH and Harvard Medical School who have a broad spectrum of expertise in molecular biology, statistical genetics and genomics, bioinformatics and computational biology, genes and environment, and pharmacogenomics. The PQG offers small grants to PQG faculty to organize focused workshops on emerging specific issues around quantitative genomics;
  • Supported by a R13 grant (PI: Xihong Lin) jointly funded by the NCI and the NHLBI, the PQG has organized two very successful annual conferences with an emerging theme that varies from year to year. The 2007 conference was on "Emerging Design and Analysis Issues in Genomic Studies in Population Sciences." The 2008 conference was on "Emerging Quantitative Issues in Parallel Sequencing," and was featured in a Nature article published in March 2009. The 2009 conference was on "Human Genetic Variation, Health and Disease: New Knowledge, New Quantitative Challenges." "Putting it all Together: Integrating Genetic, Epi-genetic, Genomic and Complex Phenotypic Data" was the theme of the 2010 conference, and the 2011 conference was on "Quantitative Issues in Genomic Medicine;"
  • The school-wide PQG seminar is held on a monthly basis and alternates with the school-wide Bioinformatics Forum on a bi-weekly basis. The PQG has organized the short course and tutorial series on computational tools in genomic research;
  • The PQG has student and postdoctoral fellow associates drawn from many departments across HSPH who actively participate in program activities. The PQG formed a student/postdoc committee which has helped develop the curriculum of this training grant, and has taken the lead in organizing the tutorial series. The PQG offers travel support to PQG students and postdocs to attend conferences.
The HSPH Center for Health Bioinformatics: The HSPH Bioinformatics Core was established in 2003 by Dean Barry Bloom to assist researchers at HSPH with the management, integration and contextual analysis of biological high-throughput data. The Core, led by the Scientific Director Dr. Winston Hide and overseen by Associate Director Dr. Oliver Hofmann, provides consulting, training, tools, databases and guidance on best practices. It fosters collaboration and a community of bioinformatics activities by working closely with other Cores and Centers in the Longwood community and across Harvard, and builds a unified infrastructure supporting a diverse set of experimental systems and high-throughput biological data.

HSPH Genes and Environment Initiative: The HSPH Genes and Environment Initiative (GENI) was launched in 2008 by Dean Barry Bloom and is a HSPH strategic initiative that promotes research in genes and the environment, where the environment is broadly defined to include physical, nutrition, pharmacology, and social and behavioral factors and toxicants. This initiative aims at bringing together several areas of traditional excellence at the School - environmental health research, population science, quantitative methods, and bench science - to make an important contribution to understanding the combined effects of genetic and environmental factors on human health. Dr. Gokhan Hotamisligil (a faculty trainer on this training grant), Chair of the Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, serves as the chair of the GENI executive committee, which consists of Drs. Xihong Lin (PI/Director) and Peter Kraft (Associate Director) together with several faculty trainers of this training grant. Two rounds of internal RFAs were issued and six internal projects are currently supported by the GENI. The GENI hosted a mini poster day and symposium day, as well as monthly GENI networking seminars. The HSPH currently has a gene and environment training grant that was funded in 2008 and is directed by the PI Dr. Marianne Wessling-Resnick in GCD and co-PIs Drs. Xihong Lin and Dr. Tom Smith (Environmental Health). We plan to have the trainees of this training grant interact with the trainees of the genes and environment training grant through lab rotations, courses, and seminar and workshops.

Biostatistics Department Curriculum Reform: In light of the rapid changes in the field of Biostatistics, e.g., analysis of high-dimensional genomic data, and a significant expansion of bioinformatics and computational biology faculty in the Department of Biostatistics, the department curriculum committee has been conducting reviews and revisions of the Biostatistics curriculum to meet emerging educational needs. A curriculum retreat was held in 2009, which resulted in several curriculum changes. For example, the core biostatistical courses were reduced from six courses to four in order to offer flexibility for students with diverse backgrounds and interests. The statistical computing course has been revamped to cover the current computing developments. These changes offer an excellent curriculum infrastructure and resources for this joint training grant.

Harvard Medical Area Core Facilities: The Harvard Medical Area offers excellent core resources to the trainees. They include (1) the HSPH Bioinformatics Core, High Throughput Genotyping Core, Proteomic Core; (2) the Dana-Farber Microarray Facility, the Molecular Biology Core, the Antibody Core, the Flow Cytometry Core, the Transgenic Mouse Core, the Center for Molecular Pathology; (3) the Harvard Partner Center for Genetics and Genomics Microarray Core, Genotyping Core, Sequencing Core and Bioinformatics Core; (4) the Harvard Channing Lab Genotyping Core and Bioinformatics Core. A large number of wet and dry labs located at the Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Channing Laboratory are available for trainees' rotations. Affiliated with these centers, cores and labs, there are numerous investigators studying many different diseases in the laboratory and in the clinic using many modalities of studies who have served as faculty trainers for this training grant.

Harvard Catalyst: Harvard Catalyst is a pan-Harvard University enterprise dedicated to improving human health. It is a shared enterprise of Harvard University, its ten schools, its eighteen Academic Healthcare Centers (AHC), and numerous community partners. Harvard Catalyst was jointly founded in May 2008 with a five-year, $117.5 million grant from the NIH (Clinical and Translational Science Center, CTSC) and $75 million dollars from Harvard. The mission is to bring faculty, post-doctoral fellows, clinical trainees, and graduate students from across the University together to combat human illness. It provides an attractive infrastructure for researchers from different disciplines to interact and promotes cross-institutional collaboration to speed up translational research. Many faculty of this training grant are involved in Catalyst. Dean Jim Ware, a primary trainer, heads the Catalyst Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Core. Catalyst provides rich interdisciplinary resources for our trainees. The trainees of our current interdisciplinary biostatistics training grant have substantially benefited from the expanded body of faculty in statistical genetics, bioinformatics and computational biology, molecular biology and genetic epidemiology, and rich interdisciplinary research infrastructures. They have been trained by a strong group of interdisciplinary faculty through interdisciplinary coursework, lab rotations, and strong publication records in statistical, computational biology, genetic and subject-matter journals. Through the four-year history of the current training program, our training program has distinguished itself with several features:
  • HSPH places high value on interdisciplinary research and training, and the Harvard Medical Area provides an environment that is particularly conducive to interdisciplinary collaboration and training with its rich infrastructures and scientific research activities in genetics and "omics," such as numerous centers, core facilities and wet and dry labs (see the above and the Resource section);
  • The current interdisciplinary training grant in biostatistics has supported eight students in the last four years. Three trainees have graduated; one has taken a tenure-track assistant professor position at the Department of Biostatistics of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; another is heading a computational biology lab at Merck & Co.; the third did a medical informatics postdoctoral fellowship at MIT and is now working for a Boston consulting group on health care outcomes research. Five students are still in training. Twenty-two papers have been published by the trainees during this training period, with many published in leading statistical, genetic and bioinformatics journals, such as Nature, Science, Cell, Bioinformatics, and Genome Biology;
  • HSPH and GSAS have an outstanding record of minority recruitment; the two schools have established a substantial infrastructure for minority recruitment, and as a result of these efforts, we have a critical mass of minority students enrolled in both departments of biostatistics and epidemiology.