Deciphering the Data

CTRI Expands On-site Biostatistics Services to Rady Children's Hospital

January 27, 2015   |  Patti Wieser 

UC San Diego Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI) is now offering biostatistics services on-site at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego—and demand is robust.

"I'm delighted we were able to bring CTRI biostatistics services on-site at Rady Children's," said Christina Chambers, PhD, Director of Clinical Research at UC San Diego's Department of Pediatrics and Associate Director, CTRI Center for Clinical Research at Rady Children's. "Biostatistics consultation is an essential tool for both fellows and experienced investigators."

Through a collaboration between CTRI and Rady Children's, the CTRI biostatistics team provides free consultations to Rady Children's investigators on statistical support. This includes study design and proposal writing, study implementation and management, statistical analysis, and publishing and communication. Projects have ranged from reviewing outcomes data regarding a multidisciplinary approach to treating children with feeding disorders, to evaluating BMI and other factors as predictors of the ambulatory status of spina bifida patients at UC San Diego, to examining how patients report the severity of their psoriasis during pregnancy and hormonal changes.

CTRI biostatistician James Proudfoot staffs the biostatistics office at Rady Children's.

CTRI biostatistician James Proudfoot staffs the biostatistics office at Rady Children's.

"It's been busy. So far, we have 14 projects," said CTRI biostatistician James Proudfoot, who is staffing the new biostatistics office at Rady Children's four mornings a week. "Researchers seeking our services are those who need help with data analysis or with putting together a proposal, manuscript or grant."

One of these researchers is George Chiang, MD, a pediatric urologist at Rady Children's who consulted with Proudfoot on the project, Ambulatory Status in Spina Bifida Patients.

"Being able to work directly with James has helped us tremendously with our clinical research efforts looking at the influence of obesity on mobility in children with spinal dysraphism," Chiang said, noting the benefits of having services at Rady Children's. "Having on-site statistical expertise not only educates me and our trainees, but it provides an opportunity for open discussion on research methodology and output."

Chambers stressed the importance of biostatistics support for fellows and junior investigators at the front end, when they are designing their studies and writing research proposals. And experienced investigators need biostatistics assistance to do power calculations for grant proposals. "Biostatistics helps to grow the clinical research process," she said. "The purpose of this was to be able to fulfill one-off needs such as doing a small clinical trial or providing help with a proposal."

Chambers joined Ronghui (Lily) Xu, CTRI Biostatistics director, and Christine Moran, director of Research Administration at the Rady Children's Clinical Trials Office, in developing and establishing the biostatistics services at Rady Children's.

"We are glad to be able to provide statistical support for the Rady Children's Hospital researchers," said Xu. "There are many unique research questions and methodologies for the pediatric population, and we look forward to working on those with the Rady investigators."

Biostatisticians assist investigators at every stage of the research process to produce results that are rigorous, meaningful and easy to communicate. Proudfoot described statistics as a balance between efficiency and quality. Most projects, he explained, have a sense of urgency driven by deadlines, but coupled with that urgency is the need to ensure that the analysis is right. "All the analysis has to be reproducible," he said.

The path from the dataset to the results can be tracked step by step. "Every project starts with a dataset and aims, and I fill in the blanks. It's fun because it's a puzzle to solve. Even tasks such as formatting data, cleaning up data and performing quality control on the data itself are challenging," Proudfoot said. Producing and analyzing is typically quick, but preparations take more time. When the work is completed, the investigator can reproduce the results. "That's the idea. Anyone can reproduce the results on a computer if they have the dataset and the code."

To further ensure quality, the biostatistics team at CTRI, in addition to the project researcher and a peer reviewer, reviews all the data analysis and proposals.

Proudfoot encouraged researchers to place their requests for statistics services as early as possible to enable the necessary preparation and data reviews.

About CTRI biostatistician James Proudfoot: James Proudfoot received a bachelor's degree in probability and statistics from UC San Diego and a master's degree in statistics from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 2012, joining CTRI's biostatistics staff the same year. He teaches an elementary statistics course at Cuyamaca College. When he is not analyzing data, he enjoys music, reading sci-fi and fantasy – his favorite authors are Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King – snowboarding and tennis. He plays bass in an original project and classic rock cover band.