“Biostatistics at KPWHRI can have a big impact because the new methods we develop can be readily evaluated and applied in health care on a national scale.”

Jennifer Nelson, PhD
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute Senior Investigator
Director of Biostatistics 

Research overview

High-quality health care research depends on high-quality biostatistics: Without it, conducting scientifically sound studies would be like trying to assemble a puzzle without having all the right pieces. The Biostatistics Unit at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) develops, improves, and applies rigorous statistical methods that enhance the quality of research at Kaiser Permanente Washington and nationwide.

National consortia

KPWHRI biostatisticians help lead several national consortia that are developing innovative methodological approaches to benefit public health, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Sentinel Initiative. “We help the FDA overcome analytic challenges in using health care databases to conduct post-market safety surveillance, developing new methodological approaches that allow rapid safety surveillance of new medical products,” Dr. Nelson said. 

Another such project is the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory, which supports several pragmatic clinical trials that take advantage of large health systems’ existing data resources to efficiently produce results that better reflect real-world care. Dr. Cook is developing new methods for these clinical trials that use data from EHRs and other existing data systems. “Without new methods, interpreting findings from pragmatic clinical trials wouldn’t be feasible,” she explained. “You need different methods and a whole new approach to trial design to test interventions that will work in a real-world setting.”

As a co-investigator on the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN), Associate Investigator Susan Shortreed, PhD, helps design research ranging from comparative effectiveness and safety studies to predicting outcomes over time based on patient and provider characteristics and treatment choices. Leveraging the rich data resources available from the 13 health systems involved in the MRHN, Dr. Shortreed also leads analyses of EHR data to understand who is at risk for suicide attempt. “Our long-term goal is to improve mental health care by using EHR data to identify which depression treatments will work best for which people” she said.

KPWHRI biostatisticians also play an integral role in influential research on cancer screening and prevention. Senior Investigator Diana Miglioretti, PhD, who is also the Dean’s professor in biostatistics at the University of California, Davis, co-leads the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC)—the nation’s largest collection of information on breast cancer screening. KPWHRI researchers are also at the forefront of two national collaborations focused on understanding and improving colorectal cancer screening processes: the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) and Population-based Research Optimizing Screening through Personalized Regimens (PROSPR).

Seattle Symposium

With the use of electronic health record (EHR) data for research rising, methodological rigor is more important than ever. That’s why Associate Investigator Andrea Cook, PhD, and Jennifer Nelson, PhD, KPWHRI’s director of biostatistics and a senior investigator, joined with Patrick Heagerty, PhD, a KPWHRI affiliate investigator and chair of the University of Washington Department of Biostatistics, to organize the 1st Seattle Symposium on Health Care Data Analytics. Held in September 2014, this first-of-its-kind event brought together scientists from across the country to discuss the statistical challenges of using EHR data for health research and to explore new methods to overcome those challenges.

“The symposium presented a variety of expert perspectives on what future studies in this arena will look like and how EHRs can be best leveraged to answer important health research questions,” Dr. Heagerty said.

Through the symposium and the many ongoing projects at KPWHRI, our biostatisticians continue to improve the rigor with which health scientists address important public health and health services questions. “We have an incredibly strong group, including many very talented master’s-level statisticians who help apply and adapt statistical methods to real-world situations—an asset that is rare in most academic research settings,” Dr. Nelson said.

Recent publications on Biostatistics

Nelson JC, Ulloa-Pe'rez E, Bobb JF, Maro JC. Leveraging the entire cohort in drug safety monitoring: part 1: methods for sequential surveillance that use regression adjustment or weighting to control confounding in a multi-site, rare event, distributed data setting. J Clin Epidemiol. 2019 May 17. pii: S0895-4356(17)30857-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2019.04.012. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Mosley JD, Feng Q, Wells QS, Van Driest SL, Shaffer CM, Edwards TL, Bastarache L, Wei WQ, Davis LK, McCarty CA, Thompson W, Chute CG, Jarvik GP, Gordon AS, Palmer MR, Crosslin DR, Larson EB, Carrell DS, Kullo IJ, Pacheco JA, Peissig PL, Brilliant MH, Linneman JG, Namjou B, Williams MS, Ritchie MD, Borthwick KM, Verma SS, Karnes JH, Weiss ST, Wang TJ, Stein CM, Denny JC, Roden DM. A study paradigm integrating prospective epidemiologic cohorts and electronic health records to identify disease biomarkers. Nat Commons, 2018 Aug 30;9(1):3522. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05624-4. PubMed

Sordillo JE, Switkowski KM, Coull BA, Schwartz J, Kloog I, Gibson H, Litonjua AA, Bobb J, Koutrakis P, Rifas-Shiman SL, Oken E, Gold DR. Relation of prenatal air pollutant and nutritional exposures with biomarkers of allergic disease in adolescence. Sci Rep. 2018 Jul 12;8(1):10578. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-28216-0. PubMed

Liu SH, Bobb JF, Henn BC, Gennings C, Schnaas L, Tellez-Rojo M, Bellinger D, Arora M, Wright RO, Coull BA. Modeling the health effects of time-varying complex environmental mixtures: mean field variational Bayes for lagged kernel machine regression. Environmetrics, 29 (4).18 May 2018.

Hopp S, Dominici F, Bobb JF. Medical diagnoses of heat wave-related hospital admissions in older adults. Prev Med. 2018 May;110:81-85. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.02.001. Epub 2018 Feb 8.

Researchers in Biostatistics

Jennifer C. Nelson, PhD

Director of Biostatistics; Senior Investigator

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Diana L. Miglioretti, PhD

Senior Investigator, KPWHRI; Dean’s Professor of Biostatistics, University of California, Davis

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Andrea J. Cook, PhD

Senior Investigator

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Susan M. Shortreed, PhD

Associate Investigator

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Jennifer F. Bobb, PhD

Assistant Investigator

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Rebecca Y. Coley, PhD

Assistant Investigator

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Melissa L. Anderson, MS

Senior Biostatistician

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Laura E. Ichikawa, MPH

Senior Biostatistician

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Onchee Yu, MS

Senior Biostatistician

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Eric Johnson, MS


Curriculum vitae (CV)

Rod L. Walker, MS


Curriculum vitae (CV)

Robert D. Wellman, MS


Curriculum vitae (CV)

Weiwei Zhu, MS

Biostatistician III

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Jing Zhou, PhD

Biostatistician II

Curriculum vitae (CV)

Mary A. Akosile, MS, MPH

Biostatistician I

Curriculum vitae (CV)