Anti-HIV statisticians win $1.125 million NIH Merit Award

In the battle to control the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), medical researchers rely on support from many non-medical disciplines. Among these unheralded "troops" are statisticians, number-crunchers whose design and analysis of clinical trials can save scientists and physicians months even years of investigation.

One such team of statisticians at North Carolina State University has been recognized for its contributions, and has earned a five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) award of $225,000 per year, or $1.125 million in total. The award is renewable for an additional five years, for a potential total of $2.25 million.

The Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is given to "outstanding investigators" and is based on "superior competence and productivity," according to the NIH. The award acknowledges the value of the statisticians' statistical methodology in designing and analyzing complex kinds of clinical trials for HIV-related research.

Drs. Anastasios "Butch" Tsiatis, Marie Davidian and Marc Genton, all faculty in the Department of Statistics at NC State, emphasize that their research is not focused on developing new therapies. "That's the job of physicians and clinical scientists," said Tsiatis. "Our research instead is focused on a framework, based in statistical theory, that allows any set of therapies to be compared and evaluated properly."

The MERIT award will allow the statisticians to develop sophisticated statistical designs for especially complicated clinical trials. Their challenge is to design such trials for treatments with many variables, unlike clinical trials with "simple" structures.

"With the advent of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), which involves giving HIV-infected patients 'cocktails' of potent anti-HIV agents," says Tsiatis, "great strides have been made in reducing mortality. But long-term use of

Contact: Dr. Anastasios Tsiatis
North Carolina State University

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