David Harrington, PhD Receives 2023 Marvin Zelen Award

Article courtesy of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics:

We are pleased to announce Dr. David Harrington, Emeritus Professor of Statistics Professor of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former Chair of the Department of Data Science at DFCI, will be the recipient of the 2023 Marvin Zelen Leadership Award in Statistical Science.

We will host Dave for a lecture on “The special relationship between survival analysis and cancer research — successes and persistent problems.” on Wednesday, April 26th in FXB G11 at 4pm, followed by a reception in the FXB Atrium.

Over the course of his exceptional 45-year career, Dave has served as both a scholar and a leader in the theory and practice of statistics in medical research. In addition to being on the forefront of the development of the new field of biostatistics, he played a crucial role in preparing a new generation of statisticians and physicians, leading the field of medicine towards a more rational use of data. The breadth of his contributions in both research and pedagogy reflect the fundamental vision of Marvin Zelen, making Dave a natural recipient for this prestigious award.

Dave received his PhD in 1976 from the University of Maryland with a focus on statistical theory and methods and spent nearly all of his 45-year career in the development of statistical methods and their application in medical and public health research, as reflected in his extensive CV. He joined the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in 1984 and worked as a professor of Biostatistics from 1990-2018. He chaired the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology (now the Department of Data Science) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute from 1998–2009, and the Department of Statistics at Harvard from 2012–2014. While at Harvard he developed and taught a course attended by hundreds of students each year providing a data-driven introduction to biostatistics. He also co-wrote a text on the subject and introduced it online as an open-source resource. During the 11 years he was Chair of the Biostatistical Department at DFCI, Dave led the expansion of membership as well as the scope of research, embracing the new field of computational biology.

Dave’s contributions in academia were paralleled by his outstanding contributions to the field of cancer research. From 2001 to 2014, Dave served as principal investigator of the NCI sponsored Statistical Coordinating Center for the Cancer Care Outcomes Research and Surveillance (CanCORS) Consortium, a study of access to and outcomes from cancer care in a cohort of 10,000 patients with colorectal or lung cancer. Dave led nation-wide clinical trial statistical coordinating centers and was instrumental in establishing the DF/HCC Biostatistics research program. He also served on the Scientific Advisory Board for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital for five years and on the standing Data Safety Monitoring Committees for NIAID HIV studies in Sub-Saharan Africa (2001-17, Chair from 2015), as well as cancer trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering for 20 years. From 2000-2008 he served on the US FDA Oncologic Advisory committee with continued service as an Ad hoc member.

The importance of Dave’s contributions is reflected in the many teaching awards and accolades he earned over his career. These included the Nichols Award for Teaching Excellence, the Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize, and the Hoopes Prize for Senior Thesis Mentoring from Harvard, as well as the Herman Callert Leadership Award from Hasselt University, Belgium. Dave is also an elected fellow of the International Statistical Institute, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the American Statistical Association. Throughout his career, he also contributed his expertise to major medical publications, serving as the lead statistical editor for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Marvin Zelen had a vision for the future of the field of Biostatistics, recognizing the importance of faculty and students meaningfully expanding its applications in classroom and hospital settings. Dr. Zelen’s vision was exemplified by his recruitment of David Harrington to join his department nearly four decades ago. Though he followed in Martin’s footsteps, Dave’s pathways were innovative, and his style was thoughtful. His career and accomplishments exceeded Marvin’s high expectations and he stewarded the development of a foundation for the study of Biostatistics at Harvard that continues to be fertile ground for the growth and expansion of the field.

Simona Cristea, PhD Joins Data Science Faculty

The Department of Data Science is delighted to announce the faculty promotion of Simona Cristea, PhD. 

Dr. Cristea’s research focuses on developing computational and mathematical models to understand the evolutionary forces driving cancer initiation, progression and invasion. Her particular interest is to connect deep learning frameworks with mechanistic descriptions of tumor evolution and immune system involvement. Dr. Cristea joined Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2016 as Postdoctoral Fellow in Franziska Michor’s lab. Since 2020, she has served as Harvard Medical School Faculty with an appointment as Instructor in Medicine.

Currently, Dr. Cristea is Head of Data Science at the Hale Family Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research. She is leading a team of data scientists and mathematical modelers to develop algorithms and data analysis frameworks to model tumor progression by combining evolutionary thinking with statistical methods and deep learning.

Dr. Cristea holds Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Cybernetics from the University of Bucharest and the Academy for Economic Studies in Romania, a Master’s in Computational Biology and a PhD in Computational Cancer Genomics from ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Throughout her career, Dr. Cristea has received multiple awards and fellowships, including the ETH Excellence Scholarship, several Swiss National Science Foundation fellowships, and the Helen Gurley Women in Science Award.

Machine Learning in Medical Imaging: From New Techniques to Clinical Translation


The 2023 Marvin Zelen Memorial Symposium featuring talks by:

  • Andy Beck (Co-founder & CEO, Path AI)
  • Jonathan Chen (Instructor in Pathology, MGH)
  • Marzyeh Ghassemi (Assistant Professor, MIT)
  • Polina Golland (Professor, MIT)
  • Jayashree Kalpathy-Cramer (Professor, University of Colorado, MGH, and HMS)
  • Bill Lotter (Member of the Faculty, DFCI and HMS)
  • Shantanu Singh (Senior Group Leader, Broad Institute)

Friday April 7, 2023

Simmons University
Paresky Conference Center
300 The Fenway, Boston, MA

Reception to follow.

Register for virtual or in-person attendance.

Dana-Farber Researchers Lead Study Providing Hope for Younger Breast Cancer Patients Looking To Pursue Pregnancy

There is good news for young women with breast cancer who would like to have a baby. A landmark international study, POSITIVE, led by a team that included Dana-Farber researchers, and presented at the recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, found that young women with early-stage hormone receptor-positive breast cancer could safely interrupt their endocrine therapy to pursue a pregnancy.

Young women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer are often treated with endocrine therapy which seeks to impede tumor growth by blocking the production of certain hormones or preventing them from reaching tumor cells. Examples include ovarian function suppression, aromatase inhibitors, and selective estrogen receptor modulators. Endocrine therapy can last for 5-10 years, during which time young women are counselled by their physicians to forgo having a child until the completion of therapy, a reality that may prohibit many young women from starting a family or expanded their existing one.

“Fortunately, the vast majority of women with early-stage breast cancer are going to be cured of their disease,” says Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, vice chair of medical oncology and founder and director of the Institute’s Program for Young Adults with Breast Cancer who co-chaired the POSITIVE study. “Among the many unique survivorship challenges faced by young women with breast cancer though, is future fertility. We wanted to evaluate the safety of women pausing their endocrine therapy to pursue pregnancy.”

Dana-Farber researchers Richard Gelber, PhDSam Niman, MS, and Meredith Regan, ScD, of Data Science designed and led the statistical collaboration for the POSITIVE study (Pregnancy Outcome and Safety of Interrupting Therapy for Women with Endocrine Responsive Breast Cancer), a clinical trial to evaluate if a pause in endocrine therapy leads to an increased risk of breast cancer recurrence.

The trial, which enrolled participants from December 2014 through December 2019, involved 518 women between the ages of 18 and 42 who had previously been treated for breast cancer and desired to become pregnant. In enrolling in the study, participants opted to pause endocrine therapy for approximately two years to try to get pregnant. Before pausing their treatment, women had completed between 18 and 30 months of post-surgical endocrine therapy.

After a median follow-up of 41 months, 44 participants had experienced a recurrence of breast cancer. The three-year rate of recurrence was 8.9%, similar to the 9.2% rate in an external control cohort.

Of 497 women followed for pregnancy status, 368 (74%) had at least one pregnancy, and 317 (63.8%) had at least one live birth, with a total of 365 babies born. These rates of conception and childbirth were on par with or higher than rates in the general public.

These results from the POSTIVE study provide encouraging guidance to younger women diagnosed with breast cancer who hope to have children, the study authors said. Previous research had suggested that pregnancy after breast cancer would not increase a woman’s risk of developing a recurrence of the cancer. However, these data were collected retrospectively, from trials conducted for other purposes. A controlled prospective study like POSITIVE was needed to conclusively answer these questions. This academic trial was made possible through an international collaboration involving 116 centers and 20 countries on 4 continents, sponsored and conducted globally by International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG), Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology and Breast International Group (BIG) with support from research foundations and donors.

Since 1977, Dana-Farber has been home of the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG) Statistical Center, led by Regan. As members of the Institute’s Department of Data Science, the IBCSG statisticians have collaborated with clinical colleagues world-wide to design, analyze, and report practice-changing clinical trial results, which have improved outcomes for patients with early breast cancer.

“One of the challenges with a trial like POSITIVE is that, ethically, it cannot randomly assign participants to either attempt or not attempt pregnancy,” explains Regan. “IBCSG statisticians worked with colleagues to design the POSITIVE trial – balancing the challenge to both provide anti-cancer care and improve patients’ survivorship experience by permitting family plans to proceed.”

The statistical design included stringent stopping criteria and frequent reviews by the IBCSG’s Independent Data Monitoring Committee to monitor safety, and its analysis used an external control group from other IBCSG clinical trials that enrolled similar patients who didn’t interrupt their endocrine therapy. The researchers are continuing to follow the POSITIVE study participants to assess recurrence risk over time.

“It is extremely gratifying to see to the POSITIVE trial results, and we are forever indebted to the bravery of the women who chose to participate,” says Niman. “Due to the unique trial design and research questions, the analyses at times were challenging, but it gave us the opportunity to stretch our imaginations and put together a thoughtful and robust final product that will hopefully impact the lives young breast survivors across the globe.”

Trial participants were strongly recommended to resume endocrine therapy after a pregnancy attempt or success.

“These data stress the need to incorporate patient-centered reproductive healthcare, treatments, and choices in working with and following up on our young women with breast cancer so that they can not only survive, but thrive in their survivorship,” says Partridge.

– Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 2023

Genomics Expert Jeremy Simon, PhD Joins Data Science Faculty

The Department of Data Science faculty welcomes Jeremy M. Simon, PhD on May 1, 2023.

Dr. Simon’s research focuses on the genetic and environmental effects on gene expression and gene regulation in human disease. He is currently Associate Professor, Genetics at University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill, where he directs the UNC Neuroscience Center Bioinformatics Core and serves as co-Principal of the UNC School of Medicine Bioinformatics and Analytics Research Collaborative (BARC).

“We are delighted that Dr. Simon is joining the Department of Data Science faculty,” said Department Chair Rafa A. Irizarry, PhD. “He is an expert in genomics and a superb collaborator.”

Team science is central to Dr. Simon’s research approach. He has collaborated with dozens of investigators and laboratories on the design, execution, analysis, and biological interpretation of high-throughput sequencing-based studies. Using integrative high-throughput sequencing-based approaches (ATAC-seq, ChIP-seq, RNA-seq, and others in bulk and single cells), Dr. Simon has studied chromatin and gene expression dysregulation in numerous disease contexts including Renal Cell Carcinoma, Ewing Sarcoma, breast cancer, autism, and Crohn’s disease. Through this work, he and his collaborators have uncovered novel disease mechanisms, as well as molecular and genetic disease subtypes.

“I am very excited to join Dana-Farber,” said Dr. Simon, who trained under Dana-Farber alumnus Dr. Ian Davis at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I learned so much during my time at UNC. It taught me the ins and outs of genomics, how these data can help us solve big questions in cancer, and how important team science is to basic and translational research. I look forward to diving in and collaborating broadly across the Institute.”

Dr. Simon will be an independent investigator in Data Science. He received a PhD in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology from UNC-Chapel Hill.


Meredith M. Regan, ScD, Promoted to Professor of Medicine

The Department of Data Science is delighted to announce that Meredith M. Regan, ScD, is promoted to Professor of Medicine as of October 1st.  

Dr. Regan is a graduate of Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and joined our faculty in 2003. In addition to appointments at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Regan is Director of the International Breast Cancer Study Group Statistical and Data Management Center, centered at DFCI since 1977. Her research focuses on clinical-translational investigations to inform patient care and treatment selection for breast and genitourinary cancers and on clinical trial endpoints. She co-leads the IBCSG’s SOFT/TEXT trials which have changed care for premenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive early breast cancer. The DFCI-led ICECaP Working Group investigated surrogate endpoints of overall survival for localized prostate cancer trials and received the American Statistical Association’s 2021 SPAIG Award. She and colleagues proposed a treatment-free survival endpoint to measure durable remission arising from immunotherapy.

Dr. Regan is integral to statistical collaboration and faculty development at DFCI. She is a dedicated mentor to our biostatisticians and early career colleagues. She also serves as co-director of the DFCI Methods in Clinical Cancer Research prerequisite for all clinical trial PIs and sits on the Executive Committee for Clinical Research and Committee for Women Faculty (including 4 years as chair).  

Nationally and internationally, Dr. Regan’s leadership in developing and interpreting breast cancer clinical trials to improve patient care includes US NCI Breast Cancer and EBCTCG Steering Committees, ASCO and ESMO clinical guidelines committees, and St. Gallen International Expert Consensus on the Primary Therapy of Early Breast Cancer. She is a frequent reviewer for ASCO, grants and clinical oncology journals; associate editor for JNCI Cancer Spectrum; a Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) sponsored researcher and Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Research Collaboration Wins 2022 Youden Award at JSM

The American Statistical Association named Roberta DeVito, PhD; Ruggero Bellio, PhD; Lorenzo Trippa, PhD; and Giovanni Parmigiani, PhD  as the recipients of the 2022 W.J. Youden Award. The award honors work developed at the Department of Data Science on multi-study factor analysis.

The authors propose a novel class of factor analysis methodologies for the joint analysis of multiple studies, published in Biometrics

The W. J. Youden Award in Interlaboratory Testing was “established in 1985 to recognize the authors of publications that make outstanding contributions to the design and/or analysis of interlaboratory tests or describe ingenious approaches to the planning and evaluation of data from such tests.”  The award is presented annually at the ASA Joint Statistical Meetings.

Artificial Intelligence Expert Bill Lotter, PhD Joins Data Science Faculty

The Department of Data Science faculty welcomes Bill Lotter, PhD on October 1, 2022.

Dr. Lotter joins Dana-Farber from DeepHealth Inc., a company he co-founded to improve diagnostic tools and outcomes in medical imaging. The company develops artificial intelligence (AI) software to assist radiologists, with a special focus on mammography. It was acquired in 2020 by RadNet Inc., the largest provider of outpatient imaging services in the United States.

As Chief Technology Officer of DeepHealth and Vice President of Machine Learning at RadNet, Dr. Lotter led the development of two FDA-cleared products that are now processing over 1 million mammograms per year. Dr. Lotter’s research has detailed the AI algorithms underlying these products, as well as their ability to aid in earlier breast cancer detection. He will bring his expertise in developing clinically-effective AI to novel applications within Dana-Farber.

“Building high-performing AI algorithms with clinical integration in mind can enable more widespread access to quality care,” said Dr. Lotter. “I’m excited to join the unique Dana-Farber ecosystem and collaborate on new AI applications to improve cancer care for all.”

Dr. Lotter will be Assistant Professor, Pathology Department at Harvard Medical School and an independent faculty member in Data Science. He received his PhD in Biophysics and Computational Science, where he developed computer vision algorithms for computational neuroscience in addition to medical imaging.

rafael irizarry dfci headshot

Rafael Irizarry, PhD, Named Lavine Family Chair for Preventative Cancer Therapies at Dana-Farber

Department Chair Rafael A. Irizarry, PhD, is the next incumbent to the Lavine Family Chair for Preventative Cancer Therapies at Dana-Farber. This chair is one of three endowed positions established by Dana-Farber Trustee Jonathan Lavine and his wife, Jeannie, through their extraordinary gift in 2020 to The Dana-Farber Campaign to leverage the Institute’s research efforts and develop comprehensive prevention and early detection models for all cancers.

As Chair of the Department of Data Science at Dana-Farber, Rafa leads efforts to collect, curate, develop methods, and analyze vast amounts of data that help improve treatments for patients. He is also a Professor of Biostatics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Puerto Rico in 1993 and his PhD in statistics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1998. He joined Dana-Farber in 2013.

A renowned applied statistician committed to leveraging data to solve real-world problems, Rafa focuses on genomics and improving cancer care through data-driven approaches. Specifically, he has worked on the analysis and signal processing of data generated by emerging high-throughput technologies, which are technologies that sequence DNA and RNA in a rapid and cost-effective way. He is one of the founders of the Bioconductor Project, an open source and open development software project for the analysis of genomic data. Rafa has repeatedly been named in the Highly Cited Researchers list by the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate, most recently in 2021.

Rafa has received several awards for his excellence in the fields of statistics, computational biology, and bioinformatics. In 2009, the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies presented him with the Presidents’ Award, arguably the most prestigious award in statistics. In 2017, he was chosen as the laureate of the Benjamin Franklin Award in the Life Sciences by the members of Bioinformatics.org, which recognizes an individual dedicated to free and open access to materials and methods used in the life sciences. In 2020, he was named International Society of Computational Biology Fellow of the Year by the International Society of Computational Biology. Rafa is also deeply dedicated to teaching and mentoring the next generation of data scientists and has developed some of the most popular online courses on data analysis, sharing many of these materials freely online.

As a Lavine Family Chair for Preventative Cancer Therapies at Dana-Farber, Rafa will continue to collaborate with investigators across disease areas to find new prevention and detection strategies, enhance our efforts to maximize the latest advances in data science, and lead us in exploring a new frontier in cancer genomics.

– Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Rochelle Levy-Christopher Receives 2022 Dana-Farber Community Service Award

Rochelle Levy-Christopher, Program Administrator with the Knowledge Systems Group, is the sole recipient of the 2022 Dana-Farber Community Service Award. Each year, this Institute-wide award recognizes “extraordinary dedication to and excellence in community service and outreach related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. It was established to honor “leaders of change, mentors to others, and those who contribute to the cultural and racial diversity of their community with great impact.” 

Originally from Harlem, New York, Ms. Levy-Christopher joined Data Science in 2018. In addition to managing the Knowledge Systems Group at Dana-Farber, Ms. Levy-Christopher serves as Scientific Project Coordinator for the Human Tumor Atlas Network Data Coordinating Center.

In 2019, Ms. Levy-Christopher launched The Black Literacy and Arts Collaborative (B.L.A.C.) Project, a 501(c)3, non-profit organization to educate, empower and uplift BIPOC youth and creatives at the intersection of art, culture, and activism. “By invoking radical imagination we encourage BIPOC communities to change landscapes all while inspiring new realities,” said Ms. Levy-Christopher. “Our goal is to support, educate and elevate BIPOC in order to create an equitable starting point between them and their white peers.”

In addition to her role as founder and CEO of The Black Literacy and Arts Collaborative Project, Ms. Levy-Christopher is a published poet, graphic designer and self-described “chronic entrepreneur and accidental activist,” dedicated to “Black Excellence ALWAYS.” She contributes to small BIPOC businesses and creatives by volunteering time to build brands, coach creatives, and entrepreneurs on the process of business startup and development as well as in her former role as Boston president of The Black Girl Social Club. Most recently, she has been recognized as a Forbes “For the Culture” member. 

“Among my friends, I have always been the “social” one,” says Ms. Levy-Christopher. “I act as the informal event planner, bringing women together, and making connections. I’ve spent the majority of my life teaching and mentoring marginalized youth, working especially with young womxn. My goal is to create access and equity for BIPOC while also empowering and inspiring Black womxn across the globe to walk in their purpose, speak their truth, and model authentic sisterhood for generations to come.”