Nilanjan Chatterjee named Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins

Scientist holds appointments in schools of Public Health and Medicine

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Nilanjan Chatterjee

Image credit: CHRIS HARTLOVE

Nilanjan Chatterjee has joined Johns Hopkins as a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Biostatistics and in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in the School of Medicine's Department of Oncology.

He joins Johns Hopkins from the National Institutes of Health, where he had served since 2001, most recently as the chief of the Biostatistics Branch of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

Chatterjee is the 16th Bloomberg Distinguished Professor appointed across Johns Hopkins. The professorships are supported by a $350 million gift to the university by Johns Hopkins alumnus, philanthropist and three-term New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The majority of this gift is dedicated to creating 50 new interdisciplinary professorships, galvanizing people, resources, research, and educational opportunities to address major world problems.

Referred to as a biostatistician, quantitative epidemiologist, and statistical geneticist, Chatterjee is a scientist beyond label. Bridging these disciplines and beyond, Chatterjee has developed an integrated program of collaborative and methodological research to investigate the genetic and environmental causes of cancers. His research has made enormous strides in increasing efficiency of studies of genetic association and gene-environment interactions, evaluating the genetic architecture of complex traits from modern genomewide association studies, and modeling subtype heterogeneity for complex diseases, such as cancer. Chatterjee has also made pioneering contributions to a variety of areas in statistical methodology, such as analyzing data from studies that involve complex ascertainment of participants and combining information from heterogeneous big data sources.

"The addition of each Bloomberg Distinguished Professor stimulates new connections across the disciplines and divisions of Johns Hopkins," says Robert Lieberman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "In concert with his new colleagues in the schools of Public Health, Medicine, and beyond, we are eager for Dr. Chatterjee to employ his expertise in statistical genetics, big data, and epidemiology to advance biomedical science for both clinical medicine and public health."

Chatterjee will be participating in the Johns Hopkins Individualized Health Initiative, expanding his research on risk prediction models and their applications to personalized medicine and cost-effective epidemiologic study designs. These studies can expand our understanding of how genetic markers can be used for risk predictions—informing patient treatment—and for developing risk-stratified approaches to public health interventions.

"I am very excited to be at Johns Hopkins because of the opportunities for collaborative interdisciplinary research with some of the best minds in the world. In the future, solving some of the most complex health problems of our society will require team science involving people from diverse fields, including medicine, genetics, computation, engineering, mathematics, and statistics," Chatterjee says. "At Hopkins, I don't have to look far to make these connections, and the possibility to make an impact here is limitless."

Highly regarded in his fields, Chatterjee has been elected to the American Statistical Association and American Epidemiologic Society; has an exemplary record of publications in statistical, clinical, and scientific journals; and has received the most prestigious awards in his field. Notably, he was recognized in 2011 with the most coveted prize in statistics: the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies Presidents' Award, which is co-sponsored by five major national and international statistical societies and is awarded to a person under the age of 40. In bestowing this honor, COPSS noted Chatterjee's "outstanding contributions to the statistical sciences by ingenious methodological research," his "leadership and vision as a statistical scientist by actively collaborating in wide-ranging studies of cancer epidemiology and genetics," and his "exceptional mentoring and service to the profession."

"As one of the leading statisticians in his generation, Nilanjan greatly strengthens our scholarship on the genetic determinants of health," says Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We enthusiastically anticipate the great work he will accomplish in his new role at the Bloomberg School, especially in developing interdisciplinary education initiatives for our students."

Chatterjee has, in fact, been an integral part of training Johns Hopkins biostatistics students for more than five years. Through the NCI-Hopkins Biostatistics Training Program, select students commenced training in the Department of Biostatistics and completed a PhD dissertation under the guidance of Chatterjee at the National Cancer Institute. Noting mentors who have guided and encouraged him along his own career path, Chatterjee says he is particularly looking forward to expanding his training of the next generation of "interdisciplinarians" at Johns Hopkins.

"When I came to the USA from India, I was really interested in pursuing mathematical statistics and probability theory. As a result of a sequence of required courses in applied statistics at the University of Washington—the first of which was taught by my adviser, Norm Breslow—I discovered the appeal of applied statistics," Chatterjee says. "During my PhD dissertation, Norm not only infected me with his passion for research on two-phase study designs but also taught me about the importance of maintaining a high standard of ethics and fairness in research." Chatterjee also will be teaching graduate courses in the schools of Public Health and Medicine and undergraduate seminars for the Public Health Studies program on the Homewood campus.

Paul Rothman, the Frances Watt Baker, M.D., and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D., dean of the medical faculty in the School of Medicine, says, "Nilanjan's exceptional research bridging genetics and biostatistics will enhance our ability to apply mathematical approaches to understanding chronic diseases as well as the genetic basis of cancer. We are very pleased he has decided to make Johns Hopkins his new academic home."

Chatterjee received his bachelor's and master's degrees in statistics from the Indian Statistical Institute, his doctorate in statistics from the University of Washington, and postdoctoral training at the NCI with Sholom Wacholder, a noted biostatistician and mentor who died recently.

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