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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Leah Welty, PhD, associate professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Biostatistics

Leah Welty, PhD

Leah Welty, PhD, associate professor of Preventive Medicinein the Division of Biostatistics, serves as director of the Biostatistics Collaboration Center.

The Biostatistics Collaboration Center (BCC) offers Northwestern Medicine investigators expert support in biostatistics, epidemiology, programming and data management. The support ranges from one-time consultations to long-term collaborations that result in funded grants and peer-reviewed publications. 

In addition, Welty is the lead biostatistician for the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of psychiatric disorders and risky behaviors in nearly 2,000 youths who were arrested and detained in Cook County, IL, between 1995 and 1998.

Welty is also an associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciencesand a member of Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NUCATS).

What are your research interests?

My background is in statistical methods used for longitudinal and spatial data, which I have applied to a broad range of areas: outcomes of delinquent youth as they age; health effects of air pollution; and algae levels in Lake Michigan. Research interests among BCC faculty are broad, ranging from clinical trial design to genomics to multi-level data, with a lot in between. 

Right now, I am focused on reproducible research.  With support from NUCATS, I’m leading a team that’s developing StatTag, a novel and unique software tool that connects statistical results with Microsoft Word. With StatTag, preparing a manuscript no longer means repeatedly copying-and-pasting results in to a Word document, or wondering where results in a manuscript came from.  In short, it’s about making research more efficient and more robust. 

StatTag is free, open-source, user-friendly for non-technical users, sophisticated enough for technical users, and available for Windows and Mac. Our team, including Luke Rasmussen, clinical research associate, Abigail Baldridge, statistical analyst and Eric Whitley, data architect, is making improvements and enhancements every day.  Even though StatTag is still in development, we already have more than 450 users. 

Information about StatTag, including YouTube instructional videos and links to download the software, are available at the official StatTag webpage.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

As director of the BCC, my mission is to help investigators conduct high-quality, innovative health-related research by providing expertise in biostatistics, statistical programming and data management.  We help investigators in three major ways: First, to obtain external funding by designing studies, developing statistical analysis plans, performing sample size/power calculations and writing proposals. Second, by conducting the research, including data collection, management and analysis and interpretation of findings. Finally, we disseminate findings by co-authoring manuscripts.  We support all levels of investigators, including postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty in addition to well-established investigators.

What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus and beyond?

We collaborate with all types of investigators – in basic science, clinical, epidemiological and health services research. Last year, we collaborated with 164 different principal investigators from more than 25 departments and centers within Northwestern. We also have strong collaborations with Shirley Ryan Ability Lab and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. 

My experience as director of the BCC has allowed me to learn about the diversity of landmark research being conducted at Feinberg and its partners. I’ve worked with investigators from the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Department of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Dermatology, just to name a few. 

My largest and most long-standing collaboration is on the Northwestern Juvenile Project, part of the program in Health Disparities and Public Policy in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The primary investigator on the project is Linda Teplin, PhD, vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Owen L. Coon Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

I started working on the Northwestern Juvenile Project my second week here, in 1995.

How is your research funded?

More than half of our effort is funded by NIH and other external agencies.  We also have a generous subsidy from the Feinberg Research Officethat provides every investigator with a one to two hour initial consultation and support for grant writing.  We develop data analysis plans, write data analysis sections  and conduct power and sample size calculations with the goal of cultivating a collaborative environment that will lead to successful, externally funded research programs. 

For projects that require biostatistics expertise, but are limited in scope, the BCC supports a Recharge or Fee-for-service model.  Departments or investigators that require on-going biostatistics support may also “subscribe” to a portion of BCC faculty or staff time. 

Who makes up the BCC and what role do the individuals play in your research?

We have seven faculty members and five Master’s level statisticians, encompassing a wide range of expertise including: survival, multilevel and longitudinal data; clinical trial design and analysis; non-parametric methodology; genomics and statistical genetics; missing data; and risk prediction. 

Our faculty are primary investigators of their own grants, leaders in professional organizations and nationally recognized biostatisticians.  Our Master's level members, better known as Biostatisticiansand Statistical Analysts, are knowledgeable in many statistical techniques and numerous software programs, including SAS, R, STATA, SPSS, REDCap and Python. 

Tameka Brannon, business administrator at the BCC, does a great job managing administrative operations, including accounting, marketing, grants administration, usage and evaluation.