When the Yale Center for Analytical Sciences (YCAS) was established in 2010, the vision was to create a center that would incorporate a high level of both academic excellence and leadership as well as a range of professionals who could facilitate and implement translational research. Since then, YCAS has been serving the needs of the medical campus by expanding both services and staff. Last year, consultations with the center—about 400 of which were first-time discussions with investigators—led to 90 grant applications and about 90 publications. “We’re excited because we’re seeing both junior and senior investigators who are getting funded after working with us,” said Peter Peduzzi, Ph.D., professor of public health (biostatistics) and director of YCAS.
“For us to support investigators and have adequate staff we have to understand what the needs are and have a little bit of lead time, so we geared up very quickly to accommodate that demand,” said Paul Cleary, Ph.D., dean of the School of Public Health, which supports YCAS along with YCCI and the Cancer Center. “I think it’s been a tremendous success.”
YCAS has grown rapidly and is still expanding; there are now 18 full-time staff members and over 30 people affiliated with the center, including scientists who offer specialized expertise. For example, Hongyu Zhao, Ph.D., chair of biostatistics in the School of Public Health, who is affiliated with YCAS, analyzes genomic or proteomic data sets requested through the Center when the need arises. “Peter has done a great job of tying things together,” he said.
When it comes to working with YCAS, the earlier the better. As research budgets get tighter, there is pressure on investigators to be more efficient with their funding dollars. At the same time, journals and grant review boards are increasingly demanding careful statistical review. “For proposals to be of the highest quality, have the highest probability of success, and yield the best data, a statistician can often provide invaluable consultation very early,” said Cleary. Peduzzi urges investigators to contact YCAS when they’re writing the grant to help with study design and make provisions for statistical analysis so that support will be available when the grant comes through.
Peduzzi also cautions against underestimating the time it takes to perform statistical analyses. “There are very few analyses we do that are simple,” said James Dziura, Ph.D., deputy director of YCAS. “A lot of our analyses have to deal with complex issues like missing data, which usually means we’re using multiple imputation techniques to establish how robust our conclusions are.”
There are a number of ways to collaborate with the center, and its leadership has made an effort to make it accessible to investigators without their having to pay for services before there’s been any contact. YCAS’s weekly research and design and analytic clinics, which impose no obligation and are free to investigators, offer opportunities to collaborate with the center’s statisticians on research and study design questions, or to seek help in making sense of data that have been collected. There are spots for four research and design and two analytic clinics each week; to date, they have rarely been fully booked. “The clinics have grown significantly in popularity,” comments William Casey King, Ph.D., executive director of YCAS. “We started with one research and design clinic and one analytic clinic, and have since doubled each in response to the tremendous demand for our services. We are always looking for new ways to better meet the needs of the research community.” The center also has office hours by appointment, offering investigators the opportunity of working with a biostatistician whose expertise matches their needs. The YCAS website has a list of available hours and expertise so that researchers can find the right person to suit their statistical needs.
“YCAS can give statistical input from the very get-go, which is the way it needs to be done to work well,” said Roy Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., chief of medical oncology and associate director of translational research for the Yale Cancer Center and professor of medicine (medical oncology) and of pharmacology, who has worked with the center on grants both large and small.
YCAS collaborates with a number of such other centers as the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS, the Yale Liver Center, and the Diabetes Research Center. It has built cores for the Cancer Center Support Grant; the recent renewal of the $11.5 million Yale SPORE in Skin Cancer grant; and a large spore in Lung Cancer grant that was recently submitted. “YCAS is an extraordinary resource that allows us to get the statistical support we need for projects in oncology,” said Herbst. “We needed to have three different statisticians involved in the program and they were all coordinated through YCAS. I’ve been very impressed by how well that’s worked.”
“We’re constantly revisiting the model, rethinking what services we should provide, and how to provide them,” said Cleary. “We encourage people from all departments to give us their ideas and feedback because scientists in different areas have different needs and perspectives. We try to accommodate those.”
YCAS prides itself on the intellectual contribution it makes to Yale research projects. “We’re really excited about the scientific collaborations we’re part of,” said Peduzzi. “Our mission is to create a world-class center full of collaborative possibilities between statistical scientists and researchers so we can really change the way science is done on the Yale campus.”