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Designing experiments to improve the lot of humanity

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Designing experiments to improve the lot of humanity

Scientists have conducted experiments to improve the health and wellbeing of humankind in many ways: more food from the same land and drugs to combat disease are just two of these. What do such experiments have in common?

Scientists have conducted experiments to improve the health and wellbeing of humankind in many ways: more food from the same land and drugs to combat disease are just two of these. What do such experiments have in common?

That topic is the focus of a public lecture by visiting Hood Fellow at the University of Auckland Professor Rosemary Bailey, who has spent most of her career as a mathematician and statistician looking at the design of experiments.

“There are two key aspects to the design of any comparative experiment, one is bias and the other is variance. If bias is present or variance too great, then you cannot draw robust conclusions,” she says.

Professor Bailey will give historic and more recent examples of experiments in several areas. One of these is the TeGenero clinical trial for a novel type of drug to treat a type of leukaemia. Unfortunately, this trial at Northwick Park Hospital went badly wrong.

The healthy volunteers who were given the drug soon experienced damage to their immune systems and were transferred to intensive care. While there were no fatalities, these people remain at higher risk of organ failure and cancer.

Professor Bailey was among a group of experts invited by the Royal Statistical Society to examine what went wrong in the TeGenero trial and make recommendations for the design, approval and conduct of First-in-Human clinical trials.

Currently a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews, Professor Bailey began her career designing experiments at Rothamsted Experimental Station, famous for its agricultural field trials.

The invitation to contribute to recommendations for the design of First-in-Human trials allowed her to apply her experience in agricultural field trials in a completely different area.

“My experience proved useful in improving the design of dose-escalation trials. In fact, my career has been about transferring what I know in one area to another.

“One message I have for younger mathematicians is: don’t be afraid to bring your experience and knowledge in a particular sector and apply it elsewhere.”

For more information to: http://goo.gl/NrYKQ0

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