Program Overview

The Cancer Biostatistics Training Program at the University of Michigan provides support for pre-doctoral training at the interface of biostatistics and cancer research under support from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

The program, which began in 2002, will support four trainees each year. Training support may be for two or three years. United States citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply. Trainees can be new applicants to the Biostatistics graduate program or continuing Michigan students in early stages in their graduate studies. Trainees from other departments (Epidemiology) can be considered. Trainees are expected to enroll in, or have the eventual intention of enrolling in, the Ph.D. program.

Trainees are expected to undertake a curriculum of coursework in Biostatistics and  Cancer, learn about the science of cancer and become involved in cancer research projects.

Trainees participate in programmatic activities, including a Journal Club, the Cancer Biostatistics seminar and research lab meetings.

Trainees will receive mentoring from one of the program faculty. Trainees are expected to do research for their PhD dissertation that is related to cancer.

Pre-doctoral trainees are provided with full tuition (two semesters) and a stipend each year. Trainees also receive travel funds towards attendance at a scientific meeting.

It is widely recognized that biostatistical collaboration and methodology are essential components of research into the underlying mechanisms, causes, risk factors, and therapeutic interventions for cancer. The long term aim of this program is to increase the participation in cancer research of biostatisticians who are educated not only in the powerful methods of modern statistics, but also in the biology, genetics and epidemiology of cancer, the current body of knowledge about the etiology of the disease, its natural history, prevention and treatment.

Cancer is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among people throughout the world. It has a devastating effect on individuals and the society in which they live. Over 40 percent of us will develop cancer; over 20 percent of us will die from cancer. There is a tremendous amount of active and ongoing research into understanding the basic mechanisms of cancer and developing methods to prevent and treat cancer. The science of cancer is multifaceted, as illustrated by the breadth of scientists involved in the research efforts to fight cancer which includes pathologists, immunologists,  virologists, population scientists, geneticists, radiation biologists, and clinical trialists, to name a few.

There has been a long tradition of involvement by statisticians in cancer research. A major emphasis and achievement of statisticians in cancer research has been in developing the discipline of clinical trials and in developing methods for epidemiological studies. These areas can and will continue to play important roles. The phenomenal expansion in the knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of cancer indicates a need for statistical scientists with a greater understanding of the science of cancer. The astounding advances in molecular biology and genetics will have a substantial impact on the role that biostatisticians play in the future. They are likely to be closer to the cutting edge in advances in basic science.

In the future, biostatisticians will be working more and more in multidisciplinary cancer research teams. A premise of this training program is that such teams will be greatly enhanced if the biostatistician is biologically knowledgeable. This will be especially the case if these biostatisticians have a substantial knowledge of the molecular biology, the biological mechanisms, the genetics and the etiology of cancer.

With the advances in medical science and the associated technology, the types of data which statisticians are seeing and the types of issues they face are becoming more complex. As medical science becomes more complex the demands for statistical expertise will increase as well. In modern biostatistical research, the statistician scientist must be trained not only in the theory of statistics, but also be an interested and knowledgeable scientist, as well as having  the interpersonal skills to work with investigators who are not trained as statisticians.

The outcomes used in clinical trials and epidemiologic studies are becoming more diverse. There is a need for more advanced statistical methods and individuals that understand their  use and interpretation in the context of cancer.

We believe that the training program is quite novel and unique amongst departments of Biostatistics. The program is designed to respond to the changing environment for biostatistics, and the special need for biostatisticians to understand biology more than ever.

The overall purpose of this training program is to provide biostatisticians with the requisite scientific knowledge to understand current issues in cancer research, and to provide training  in statistical and epidemiological techniques and research methodology related to cancer.

The methods of education will include formal coursework in biostatistics, epidemiology, and biology relating to cancer; interdisciplinary seminars on current research and biostatistical topics in cancer research; a Cancer Biostatistics seminar; a journal club; mentored research in collaboration with cancer investigators; and presentation of research products in national statistical and cancer conferences.