Statistical science for `omic research in Canada (07w2140)

Arriving in Banff, Alberta Friday, June 29 and departing Sunday July 1, 2007


Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio (University of Calgary)

(University of British Columbia)

Robert Gentleman (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

(University of Calgary/Alberta Cancer Board)


a. Workshop objectives:

The first objective is to bring together Canadian researchers to discuss their current and future directions in `omic research. Researchers working on diverse problems are purposely included in the list of proposed invitees. The second workshop objective is to focus on practical aspects of conducting `omic research in Canada. This more practical aim will focus on issues such as funding opportunities, attracting students, teaching courses and developing collaborations with biological and medical researchers.

b. Relevance, importance, and timeliness:

These workshop objectives are more relevant and critical to the success of genomic research than ever before. Problems such as the lack of replicability (a fundamental cornerstone of the scientific method), rapid development of new high throughput technologies, and accumulation of complex biological information from different perspectives demand more powerful and sophisticated statistical methods. `Omic research generates numerous challenging problems for statistical researchers that require novel and complex solutions. However, statistical genomic research does not fit the mandate of most genomic research funding agencies and traditional statistical funding agencies do not provide sufficient funds to carry out the necessary empirical validation. Thus, strategies to improve the funding environment are sorely needed now.

There is also an increasing recognition of the need for team science as the scale and complexity of biological problems becomes apparent. For example, a new major initiative of the (U.S.) National Institutes of Health (NIH) focuses on developing interdisciplinary researchers. This initiative includes funding research and training centers that combine various disciplines "to provide new ways of thinking about and addressing key and complex problems in the biomedical sciences" ( The fundamental goal of this NIH initiative is to create new types of researchers and even disciplines — the research teams of the future — to advance science. No such initiative exists in Canada. Thus, research and training opportunities are very limited. Often only a single statistical genomic researcher is located in a province or at a university. He/she needs to develop collaborations and provide training opportunities for the next generation of researchers. Hence, developing national networks and strategies to strengthen interdisciplinary research is needed to really move the field forward.

At the end of the workshop, researchers will have developed and strengthened research connections and will have strategies for impacting this research area even more in the future. We intend to write a white-paper type document for distribution to the statistical genomic community, which will be based on the issues and solutions identified from this workshop. Hence, this proposed workshop is crucial to accelerating knowledge of genomic research and to the continuing development of Canadian interdisciplinary statistical genomic researchers.