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What’s in your data?


Data
​June 2019

By Theresa Jennings

What’s in your data? Knowledge. Clarity. The Future. Every data set has a unique story to tell, a diagnosis to uncover and an answer that helps you determine the next steps in your research. While researchers may be the experts in science, biostatisticians and data scientists are the experts in the quantitative analyses behind the science. 

The CCTSI Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design (BERD) program partners with the Center for Innovative Design and Analysis (CIDA) to offer comprehensive statistical and data science support and grant development to the Anschutz Medical Campus as well as several organizations throughout Colorado. The range of support depends on the needs of the investigator. “If someone has a quick question or needs to bounce ideas off of a statistical expert, they can visit our office hours programs and get those needs met,” described Miranda Kroehl, PhD, who is the assistant director of the Center for Innovative Design and Analysis. “We also offer short term project support if they have data and need help with the analysis, or a long-term collaboration where a biostatistician or data scientist joins the investigator’s research team.” 

Dr. Kroehl continues, “In the long-term collaborations, the stats team learns the science behind the research, and they start contributing to research ideas and questions as well as being quantitative experts.” 

With nearly 20 full-time faculty members, CIDA has expertise across a broad range of fields. Our faculty members have the curiosity to explore projects individually and the opportunity to be a part of a team that allows them to learn and work together, conduct cutting edge methods research and then apply it to the different analyses they are completing.

The role of a highly trained statistician
A high-quality data scientist and biostatistician should be on a project from start to finish. “From the start, the CIDA team can help on anything from designing your database to powering your study, querying data checks and preparing the data for analysis,” explains Kayla Williamson, MS a research instructor with CIDA. “We also think about topics including missing data and causation vs correlation,” says Williamson. “These are things you would not [necessarily] think about if you were not a highly-trained statistician.”

Dr. Kroehl continues, “Our expertise is in taking your data and turning it into something meaningful, and statisticians are individuals who can help you make the most out of your data.”

Williamson is one of the statisticians who collaborates with Peter Mourani, MD, director of clinical research for the Section of Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics and medical director of the Children's Hospital Colorado Research Institute. “We couldn’t do the work without the statisticians. We utilize complex high dimensional data, not only do we deal with 16S bacterial microbiome data, we have RNAseq for broader microbiome detection and transcriptomics, and proteomic data from the SomaLogic platform, and we analyze all the data together,” explains Dr. Mourani. “The analyses that are required are more than what a physician scientist like myself are offered in their training.”

The role of a statistician is everchanging. “In the age of R where everything is open source, you can find a program that will give you an answer and a p-value, but the real value of a statistician is knowing whether or not that p-value is fabricated based on something that is just a coincidence or something that is actually important,” explains Williamson. “Trained statisticians are really good at looking for missing data, thinking about skew, how the variance looks, the residuals and all of these very small seemingly unimportant things. If you don’t know what you are looking for you will miss it.”

Statistical support for short-term projects
CIDA offers statistical support for projects of all sizes. These projects typically last one to two months for analysis. They begin when the data is ready to be analyzed and end when the manuscript is published. “CIDA is committed to helping with the analytics and data management of the cutting-edge research that happens on campus and throughout Colorado,” said Dr. Kroehl. “Research can be improved by adding experts in various fields to your team and we enjoy learning the science and working with you to see your research answer your questions, further science and help people in the process.” 

CIDA biostatisticians provide a publication-ready report with methods and results. For abstracts, presentations and publications, we work with you to review or write the statistical methods and results section prior to submission.

Building long-term collaborations with teams and individuals
While some research is only a one-time project, many doctors build their careers on long-term research that leads to medical discoveries that change the practice of medicine. Dr. Mourani is not only a practicing physician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, he is also a leading pediatric researcher.

Building a collaboration made the most sense. ‘I never looked at this as one project, but as a body of work for this one grant, and many more grants to come,” explained Dr. Mourani. “I have found that really productive relationships on the statistical side occur when the statistician becomes knowledgeable about the disease or the medical problems that are being addressed in the research and that takes time.”

“My collaboration with Dr. Wagner goes back 10 years. Once statisticians develop the content expertise about the disease, the contributions that they can make exponentially rise,” said Dr. Mourani. “If you can develop long term collaborations where the statisticians start to understand the disease and have insights into the questions, they can start to make recommendations on how we should analyze existing datasets and design future research studies. A further benefit of long-term collaborations, is that the statisticians can serve to hold the biases of the investigator in check.” 

A strong team of statisticians and data scientists can help present the best information from the data that is available. From the statistician providing direction and visualizing to the PI letting the team know that certain bugs or pathogen don’t matter, strength is built by bringing a team of experts together. 

Developing grants to that lead to new research
Through CIDA’s partnership with the Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design (BERD), a program administered by the CCTSI, we collaborate with investigators who write external grants at no cost to the investigator. Grants that have the support of a biostatistician or data scientist are more likely to be funded because of the strong quantitative support. “When we help write a grant, our statistician learns about your science, we work with you to develop your research questions and aims and help turn them into a testable hypothesis,” said Dr. Kroehl. “We determine what data needs to be collected, support study design and power your grants.” When reviewing your grants, CIDA provides a second perspective and thinks about how it presents to an individual who does not have the same in-depth details that you have to make sure it is clear and concise.

The work that Dr. Mourani and Willamson are working on is part of a grant that Dr. Mourani, Brandi Wagner, PhD and Marci Sontag, PhD wrote to study the contribution of different bacteria and host response to ventilator-associated pneumonia to facilitate improved prevention and treatment methods.

“We would not have our grants if we did not have the partnership and collaboration with our statisticians,” said Dr. Mourani. 

Why work with CIDA and BERD?
CIDA is the perfect mixture of individualized project support backed by the organizational infrastructure to develop statisticians and data scientists. “I can hire a masters level statistician, but I am not equipped to develop that person’s career going forward,” explained Dr. Mourani. “When a statistician is part of program like CIDA, they are surrounded by people who can help develop their skill set and careers, and that makes for better job satisfaction, creates retention and it benefits everyone.” 

“Being part of a community where Kayla can communicate with statisticians, bounce ideas around and learn best practices is a huge benefit for her professionally,” continued Dr. Mourani.

Williamson is also supported on Dr. Mourani’s research by Dr. Wagner, the senior statistician on the project. Prior to Williamson joining the project she worked closely with Dr. Wagner. During that time, they built a working relationship that had workflows and efficiencies in place. 

“Dr. Wagner devises the statistical plan and Kayla carries it out,” says Dr. Mourani. “The working relationship and the team are some of the most beneficial reasons to partner with CIDA.”

Partner today
Visit our website and tell us a little bit about your project or grant and what you are looking for. We will reach out within 48 hours to match you with the right resource. Connect today at CIDA.ucdenver.edu​ and select Project Support or Grant Development to begin the process.

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