Saving lives by the numbers

Stephen Lagakos

In the mid-1980s, HSPH biostatistician Stephen Lagakos enthusiastically chatted up colleagues about a new mode of communicating called email. “He wondered if it would be feasible to set up email among all of us who wanted to exchange ideas about how to prevent and treat AIDS,” recalls Max Essex, Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences.

That prescient suggestion reflected Lagakos’s passion for reversing the epidemic. In 1995, he founded the Center for Biostatistics and AIDS Research (CBAR) to bring innovative statistical techniques to clinical trials in HIV/AIDS, while at the same time honoring the needs and welfare of patients enrolled in these studies. Lagakos, who served as chair of the Department of Biostatistics from 1999 to 2006, directed CBAR until his death in a car accident in 2009. His vision, melding social justice and rigorous science, continues under current CBAR director Michael Hughes, HSPH professor of biostatistics.

CBAR’s staff of about 75 biostatisticians and epidemiologists works with AIDS researchers, doctors, patients, federal funders, industry (including pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies), regulators here and abroad, policy makers, and educators. The center has had a hand in the design, monitoring, and interpretation of hundreds of HIV/AIDS clinical trials—studies that have led to many of the major advances in treating HIV infection and have shaped treatment management guidelines worldwide. In collaboration with clinical and laboratory colleagues throughout the world, CBAR has contributed to a sharp reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV among mothers with access to treatment, and to the development of new global standards of care in combination antiretroviral therapy. Building on these successes, CBAR has broadened its mission to provide advanced statistical expertise in the fight against other major infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, hepatitis, and influenza.

Carol Cruzan Morton is a Boston-based science journalist.