Victor De Gruttola, chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of Biostatistics at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), recently answered three questions about the role of biostatistics in public health.
What does a biostatistician do?
A biostatistician’s work is driven by questions relating to the health of people—as individuals or members of population. For example, how might the benefit of a treatment vary based on an individual’s characteristics, such as genotype or exposures? Every research question poses a unique challenge. Biostatisticians consider the nature of information available from sources such as genomic studies or large medical discharge records databases, and then how the information was collected and what populations it represents. They also must consider whether the question can be answered with currently available methods or if new analytical methods are required, for example, to account for missing data or a complex interaction among the genes being observed. In close consultation with subject experts such as cancer biologists and infectious disease specialists, as well as those responsible for collecting the data, biostatisticians develop a study designs, advise on study contact, and apply quantitative methods to analyze the resulting data. Not only will research results be reported to the scientific community, but also new methods or software may be developed for application to future studies.