Biostatistics Consultation Core offers pipeline to completion for researchers

College of Health Solutions unit has array of services — from project management to data analysis — available to those both across ASU and outside the university


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Tempo Together, a Sacramento, California-based start-up, has a mission to help people with disabilities get access to the services they need. To do so requires compassion, creativity — and crunching some serious numbers.

That’s where Arizona State University’s Biostatistics Consultation Core comes in.

Although Tempo Together and organizations like it are experts in administering the services they provide, sometimes they can use help with the large amounts of data necessary to figure out how to perform those services better.

In the case of Tempo Together, the social services start-up is developing a case management and community platform to connect individuals to their case managers. The Biostatistics Consultation Core (BCC), out of the College of Health Solutions, has been working with the group to develop methodologies to collect information, and they are currently running a pilot survey.

The BCC offers a variety of services, ranging from project management and program evaluation to data analysis and manuscript writing during both pre- and post-award processes. Those services are available to researchers everywhere, not just those within the College of Health Solutions or ASU at large, Executive Director and Professor Din Chen said.

“We want to make sure researchers everywhere know about what we do,” Chen said. “This service is open to everyone who needs biostatistics support.”

In addition to its work with Tempo Together, the BCC has partnered with Dr. Sandesh Dev with the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System to aid his research on cardiac amyloidosis and other topics.

Within the ASU community — but outside the College of Health Solutions — it has also assisted researchers from the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, the Biodesign Center for Personalized Diagnostics, the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics.

Chen called the core’s array of services a “pipeline to completion” for projects.

“If you want to do research, you start with an idea, but you’ll need someone to do project management, data management and statistical support on sample-size calculation and power determination as well as data analysis,” Chen said. “We have a pipeline from the beginning to the end for the research. From the idea phase to data collection and analysis, project management and then publication.”

The core’s services go beyond grant proposal support. Services include collaborations, training workshops, seminars and more. Groups or even individual students — for help with a dissertation, for example — can use the services.

The core was developed with the idea of providing biostatistics support to researchers across ASU. Matthew Scotch, associate dean of research and professor of biomedical informatics at the College of Health Solutions, said when he arrived at ASU in 2010 he saw a need for a service like the Biostatistics Consultation Core, “especially with all of the biomedical and population health research that was taking place across campus.”

Over the years, the BCC — which has grown to 13 team members — has evolved into a comprehensive unit that can handle a variety of researchers’ needs.

Francesco Acciai, director and data science specialist for the core, said it offers researchers help with all parts of research projects, including pre-award (such as grant proposal preparation) and post-award (project execution) services. This setup offers several advantages, he said.

“For instance, if a researcher needs a project manager for their project, they don’t need to hire a new person, which is a time-consuming process,” Acciai said. “We already have capable and experienced project managers available. Another advantage is that we often provide both data management and biostatistics support, which ensures a smooth transition between the data collection, data cleaning and data analysis phases.”

The core can provide researchers with the expertise needed to help them design a study for a grant proposal, determine the number of participants needed and analyze data appropriately.

Scotch pointed out the importance of having trained professionals to help researchers put together that grant proposal.

“People might think, ‘I can do that, I’ve taken an intro biostats course,’” Scotch said. “All you need is one or two biostatisticians on a (National Institutes of Health) review panel to find all the gaps in your proposal. They’ll eat it alive if you don’t have that expertise in biostatistics on your team or at least helping to plan the proposal and work with you. You really need that input, or else you’re setting yourself up to have your proposal triaged (non-scored).”

The core is projected to become increasingly important to the university as the School of Medicine and Advanced Medical Engineering, the School of Technology for Public Health, and the Health Observatory at ASU launch under the umbrella of ASU Health. Most medical schools, particularly those dedicated to the type of innovative research that is part of the ASU Health plan, have in-house biostatistics services.

“If you write a proposal to (National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control), the first thing they check is if you have a biostatistician to help you,” Chen said. “They want to make sure that for the money they give you, the data makes sense.”

To learn more about the Biostatistics Consultation Core and its services, visit chs.asu.edu/biostatistics.

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