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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UMass Amherst Professor Receives $1.5 Million from NIH to Develop Statistical Models for Large-scale Studies

Dr. Raji Balasubramanian recently received a four-year, $1,546,787 grant from the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to lead a multidisciplinary team to develop and apply new statistical models for the design and analysis of studies nested within large-scale epidemiological cohorts such as the Women’s Health Initiative. These models will be applied in genetic and metabolomics studies to discover new biomarkers of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She is an associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS).

Raji Balasubramanian-edit
[Photo: Dr. Raji Balasubramanian]

As she explains, “significant federal investment has made available huge repositories of behavioral, genotypic and phenotypic data collected from large, prospective studies such as the Women’s Health Initiative.” Her interdisciplinary team proposes to develop and apply new statistical methods to mine these rich and rapidly growing databases to investigate the causes of complex disorders such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which involve a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. Because such studies enroll several hundreds of thousands of subjects who are prospectively followed for long periods, several measures are built in to their design to reduce costs.

One such feature is the use of periodic self-report of behavior, for example, rather than direct measurement. “Although cost-effective, self-reports are prone to error,” says Balasubramanian. “By appropriately accounting for the error in self-reported outcomes, we focus on development of statistical tools for study design, causal inference in non-randomized settings as well as methods for mining high-dimensional datasets such as in high-throughput metabolomic studies.”

Dr. Balasubramanian joined the faculty in 2008. She served previously as director of biostatistics at a biotechnology start-up, BG Medicine Inc., Waltham, where she was involved in the design and analysis of several biomarker discovery studies incorporating high throughput ‘omics’ technologies.

Dr. Balasubramanian’s collaborators on this project are at UMass Medical School, Georgetown University, Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the University of Washington.