University of Massachusetts Amherst: Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology Celebrates 50 Years of Research and Scholarship

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology is celebrating 50 years as a program with an anniversary celebration on Saturday, Sept. 24 from noon to 5 p.m.

The anniversary celebration will provide an opportunity for alumni to reunite with former and current faculty and fellow classmates and to get to know the current generation of students. Event programming will include a historical overview of the department from professor emeritus David Hosmer, presentations on research trends from current faculty, and remarks from Anna Maria Siega-Riz, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and department chair Lisa Chasan-Taber.

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NEWS Photo caption: Top: Biostatistics and epidemiology faculty photo circa 1997. Bottom left: Nicholas Reich instructs a student. Bottom right: Susan Hankinson receives an award from Chancellor Subbaswamy.
Photo caption: Top: Biostatistics and epidemiology faculty photo circa 1997. Bottom left: Nicholas Reich instructs a student. Bottom right: Susan Hankinson receives an award from Chancellor Subbaswamy.
“Our 50th anniversary celebration gives us the opportunity to bring together many of our founding faculty whose keen scholarship laid a foundation for the department as it stands today,” says Chasan-Taber. “For 50 years, our faculty, staff, and students have consistently worked together to unravel complex health issues and conduct innovative research that extends knowledge of disease processes, ultimately leading to prevention strategies.”

Born as a program in 1972 as part of the Division of Public Health, the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology has grown to support almost 100 graduate students and research funding of $38.2 million. Its 26 faculty members focus on transdisciplinary research collaborations in the areas of COVID-19 and other infectious disease forecasting and mitigation, reproductive health and breast cancer research, biomarkers and genomics, problem gambling, causal methods and clinical trials, physical activity and nutrition, and more.

“The fields of biostatistics and epidemiology have been the traditional cornerstones of public health,” says Siega-Riz. “These fields have grown tremendously over the years with increasing sophistication and innovative tools to investigate the determinants of health and disease and for analyzing complex data. I am proud to say that the faculty in the department and the students they trained have contributed significantly to this growth over the years as evidenced by their growth in obtaining external grants, scholarly products, and national and international awards received.”

A few of the department’s notable achievements include:

1989 – Biostatistics faculty members David Hosmer and Stanley Lemeshow publish “Applied Logistic Regression,” the single most cited reference in all of statistics (now in its 3rd Edition).
2004 – Professor of epidemiology Lisa Chasan-Taber creates the Pregnancy Physical Activity Questionnaire (PPAQ), the first and one of the most widely used instruments for assessing physical activity during pregnancy.
2013 – The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) selects a UMass Amherst-led research consortium – the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) – to complete an unprecedented, comprehensive, 12-year investigation on the impacts of the introduction of casino gambling to the Commonwealth. Principal investigator Rachel Volberg also spearheads a companion project titled the Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort (MAGIC) study.
2020 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds the new COVID-19 Forecast Hub, again led by professor of biostatistics Nicholas Reich, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC uses the Hub as its official COVID-19 forecasting tool. The previous year he received funding from the CDC to establish one of two national CDC Influenza Forecasting Centers of Excellence.
2022 – Susan Hankinson, who was bestowed the title of Distinguished Professor by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is honored with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)-American Cancer Society Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. The award acknowledges her “remarkable contributions to the fields of cancer epidemiology, biomarkers, prevention and the etiology of breast cancer.” In 2020, she was the first epidemiologist to receive AACR’s Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research.
2022 – Assistant professor of epidemiology Andrew Lover is named deputy director of the newly formed New England Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, funded by a $10 million, five-year award from the CDC.

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