Statistician wins $150K scholarship to interpret biomedical data

December 13, 2010

Statistician Mr Davis McCarthy has won a $150,000 scholarship from the General Sir John Monash Foundation to undertake a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mr McCarthy, who works in the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's Bioinformatics division, said he was looking forward to starting his PhD in September 2011.

"The work I propose for my PhD will help biologists to develop treatments for diseases such as cancer, malaria, and diabetes," Mr McCarthy said. "Statisticians may operate behind the scenes in improving human health, but our contributions can be wide-ranging and profound."

Recent advances in biology have been driven by the development of ultra high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies that allow biologists to investigate the differences in thousands of different genes at once. The outcome of this is the generation of an overwhelming amount of data.

"Making sense of this deluge of data presents a real challenge," Mr McCarthy said. "Statisticians aim to help biologists obtain as much useful information from their data as possible by providing robust statistical analysis techniques implemented in easy-to-use, well-documented, public software."

Mr McCarthy said there are many possible applications. "We can, for example, investigate which genes are 'differentially expressed' between tumour cells and healthy cells as a step towards understanding the mechanisms by which cancer evades the body's defence system," he said.

Mr McCarthy plans to undertake his PhD in the Department of Statistics at UC Berkeley, home to several leading researchers in this field who actively collaborate with the institute's bioinformaticians.

Mr McCarthy began working in the field of biomedical statistics in 2006, while an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) student in the Bioinformatics division. UROP is a scheme designed to give undergraduate students an early opportunity to experience real life in a research laboratory and gain insight into careers in biomedical research.

"It's a great honour to receive the Monash scholarship - it will provide amazing support for my PhD at a university with a great reputation in the field," Mr McCarthy said.

"There are excellent possibilities for developing collaborations before returning to Australia to continue research and teaching. I would like to direct my own team of researchers, teach the next generation of statisticians and make a significant scientific contribution internationally."
-end-
Mr McCarthy has a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts (majoring in German) from The University of Melbourne. He was first placed in Statistics at Melbourne, and is also an accomplished hockey player, musician, and debater.

The Monash Scholarships (www.monashawards.org) are for postgraduate study and are awarded on the basis of outstanding academic ability, demonstrated leadership capability, and service to the community.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

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