3pm - 4pm
Wednesday 18 November 2020

Genetics, medicine and game shows – a statistician reviews his life choices

A seminar in the Applied Statistics Seminar Series designed to give undergraduate mathematics with statistics students a broader knowledge of the applications of statistics.

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The event will be held on Zoom.


Scientists are generating more biological data than ever before. For example, advances in technology mean that we can perform the work of the Human Genome Project in a matter of days, and several companies now offer genomic tests directly to consumers. In medicine, we often use automated techniques to perform high-throughput investigations of thousands of candidate drugs, or the genes that a compound may affect. There is great potential to use the information in these data sets to learn new biology and address the needs of patients, but any noise present in the data (especially if it’s systematic) has potential to mislead us into making wrong decisions. Hence, powerful statistical tools are required to deal with this influx of data, and biologists and statisticians are cooperating more and more to solve quantitative problems in biology.

I will explain how and why I got into this business, give a flavour of what is challenging about it, and provide examples of how techniques like regression, hypothesis testing and classification can have an impact on the field.

About the speaker

Dr Jonathan Cairns is a Senior Biostatistician in the Quantitative Biology group at AstraZeneca, where he collaborates with other researchers throughout the company, typically in the early stages of drug discovery. Before that, he studied for a PhD at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, followed by a post-doctoral position at the Babraham Institute, where he developed statistical algorithms for genomic data.

Outside of statistics, he exercises his decision making skills in a different way: he has competed on seven television game shows (including The Chase, The Weakest Link and The Krypton Factor), so far winning nearly £10,000 in total.