MS in Biostatistics - New Graduate Degree for Fall 2008

MS in Biostatistics - New Graduate Degree for Fall 2008

In the fall of 2008, NJIT will offer a master’s degree in biostatistics. In the below interview, Math Professor Sundarraman Subramanian discusses biostatistics, a relatively new field that is important to an array of industries.

What is biostatistics?
Biostatistics focuses on developing new statistical methods, as well as applying existing techniques, to interpret data about the medical and life sciences. Biostatistics is important because it is used widely in the pharmaceutical industry, the health-care industry and in medical schools.

What kind of jobs do biostatisticians have?
Most biostatisticians work in a university, a healthcare field, a research institution or pharmaceutical firm. By using sophisticated software and statistical methods, they study the factors that affect human health. They also provide advice on how to use statistics to design and analyze studies.

Is their work important?
Yes. For instance, biostatistics is essential in every step of the drug-approval process. That process calls for the accumulation of mountains of data about how patients react to new drugs. And that data need to be interpreted by biostaticians, who work on important clinical trials that evaluate the effectiveness of new drugs. In this way, biostaticians help develop new drugs that improve the quality of people’s lives, and sometimes extend their lives. It thus can be an important and gratifying job. Sophia Lu, a student here who also works as a biostatician for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, is helping the firm develop two new drugs: one to combat leukemia and another to fight gastro-intestinal tumors. She previously worked on a clinical trial for a drug, called Femera, now widely used to help breast cancer patients. Sophia says that gives her a deep sense of pride.

This is a master’s degree, so what kind of students, with what undergraduate degrees, would do well in this program?
In general, students having a quantitative background will do well in this program. In particular, students with undergraduate degrees in mathematics, statistics, and computer science would also be well suited. Any student with an undergraduate degree that stresses quantitative methods will be suitable for the program.

What classes will be offered or how will students be trained?
Biostatistics students, at the master’s level, receive training in probability and mathematical statistics. Other biostatistics classes include the design of experiments used in health studies; the design of clinical trials used to analyze new drugs; and survival data analysis, which helps doctors decide which kind of treatment to give their patients.

Will the classes be offered in the evening?
Yes. We expect that many of our students, like Sophia Lu, will be working full time. So to accommodate their busy schedules, we’ll offer evening classes. Students should be able to get their master’s degree by coming in the evenings.

Have recent advances in the biological sciences created the need for biostatisticians?
Biostatistics methods are useful for identifying new genes that contribute to a disease, and for the analysis of data about gene expression. In stem cell research, for instance, biostatistics methods are useful for determining the safety and efficacy of stem cell transplants that might cure human diseases. The need for biostatisticians is indeed growing, and as you can imagine, it’s exciting work that helps people live longer and better lives. It’s thus very gratifying. 

Sophia Lu: Profile of a Biostatician

Sophia LuSophia Lu, a statistics major at NJIT, helps to develop drugs that allow people to live longer lives.

Lu works as a bio-statician at Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Drug companies such as Novartis constantly test new drugs on patients. And Lu is the one who records and interprets the data.

The tests, known as clinical trials, determine the safety and effectiveness of new drugs. The trials generate reams of statistics. Lu designs a statistical model to interpret the data. She decides what data needs to be documented about the drug’s effects on patients and how best to record it.

To do her job, she must know biology. That allows her to interpret the laboratory results on patients. But to do her job well she must also know math and computer programming, as well as statistical analysis software (SAS). Much of what she does at work she learned at NJIT; she’s a graduate student of applied statistics, working on her Ph.D.  

If not for biostaticians like Lu, drugs that help the sick and the injured, the elderly and the dying, might never be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Right now, for instance, she is developing biostatistics for two new drugs: one to combat leukemia and another to destroy gastro-intestinal tumors.

And two years ago, she worked on a clinical trial for a new drug, Femera, which was approved by the FDA. Femera is now widely used to help breast cancer patients. That gives Lu a deep sense of pride.

“In some way I help to develop drugs that help people get well and live better lives,” she says. “That’s very gratifying.”

Masters in Biostatistics (1.1 MB, pdf)

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)