UF researcher appointed lead statistician for international childhood cancer research consortium

University of Florida biostatistician Meenakshi Devidas, Ph.D., has been named group statistician of the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to pediatric cancer research.

Devidas will lead the Statistics and Data Center, which provides statistical expertise for the Children’s Oncology Group’s research studies. She also serves as the principal investigator of a National Cancer Institute grant supporting the center beginning March 1 with a planned budget of $39 million over five years.

The Children’s Oncology Group, a National Cancer Institute-funded cooperative group, brings together more than 8,000 researchers at more than 200 children’s hospitals, universities and cancer centers across North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. About 90 percent of the 13,500 children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at Children’s Oncology Group member institutions.

“I’ve worked with the group for a long time and I’m really excited about my new role and helping the Children’s Oncology Group move forward with its research agenda,” said Devidas, a research associate professor in the department of biostatistics at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the UF College of Medicine. Devidas, a member of the UF Health Cancer Center, has worked in pediatric oncology research for 16 years.

In her role as group statistician, Devidas supervises about 60 Children’s Oncology Group faculty and staff located at the University of Florida, the University of Southern California, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Harvard University. Statisticians are involved in every phase of Children’s Oncology Group clinical trials, including study design, data management, safety and efficacy monitoring and analysis of results. There are more than 100 Children’s Oncology Group studies being conducted at any given time on the underlying biology of childhood cancers, new treatments, supportive care and survivorship.

Devidas also serves on the Children’s Oncology Group scientific council, which evaluates new study proposals and sets the group’s research priorities, and is lead statistician for the group’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia research committee. Her research focuses on developing optimal methods for trials with a small number of target participants. Patients in some Children’s Oncology Group studies may be assigned to clinical trials based on factors such as type of disease, risk factors and particular gene mutations.

“These classifications result in very small numbers of patients being available for clinical trials for each of these studies, so you have to come up with some innovative designs,” Devidas said. “The traditional trial designs may not work.”

A state-of-the-art Statistics and Data Center for such a large research enterprise is key to the Children’s Oncology Group’s future success, said Peter C. Adamson, M.D., group chair of the Children’s Oncology Group and a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“What we needed when we were looking for a new group statistician is someone who would be able to lead and harmonize a group of very talented people to help us in this research mission,” Adamson said. “Dr. Devidas is clearly a leader who can both organize the logistics of such a large research enterprise on the data management side, but as importantly understands childhood cancer research and knows how best to apply resources and methods to answer the important questions.”