During World War II, Pittsburgh contributed 95 million tons of steel—one-fifth of all the steel produced in the world. Good for the war effort, bad for the health of the people of Pittsburgh.
The Department of Biostatistics was one of the original four departments in the Graduate School of Public Health when it was founded in 1948, and the first department chair was Antonio Ciocco. In 1961, with funding from the National Cancer Institute, the department began a study of nearly 59,000 Pittsburgh steelworkers. It found that, when compared to other workers, coke oven workers experienced a higher incidence of death from lung cancer.
A second phase of the study, which began in 1965, expanded throughout the United States and Canada and found that the increased risk of lung cancer was due to exposure to coke oven effluents. The results formed the basis of one of the first standards set by the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the early 1970s and led to steel companies implementing safety and efficiency-related changes. The study also resulted in Ciocco’s decision to change the focus of the department from infectious to chronic diseases, large-scale clinical trials, and the study of health problems specific to urban and industrial environments.
Our second chair was Chung Chin “C.C.” Li, one of the founders of population genetics. The program in human genetics that evolved within the Department of Biostatistics encompassed research in population genetics and laboratory research and included one of the first genetic counseling programs in the United States. Although human genetics is now a separate department at Pitt Public Health, doctoral students in biostatistics have the option to specialize in statistical genetics.
Under our next chair, Philip Enterline, the department attained an international reputation in the development and application of statistical methods to evaluate the affect of occupational exposure on health outcomes for large industrial populations. Carol Redmond, the next chair, expanded into statistical methods and applications associated with the conduct of large-scale clinical trials. She developed a Biostatistical Center for the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), which has become internationally recognized in the conduct of large-scale randomized clinical trials for breast and colorectal cancer.
Howard Rockette led the department next, enhancing department contributions in occupational and environmental risk and randomized clinical trials. Faculty members developed collaborations to evaluate the treatment and prevention of ear disease in children, psychiatric treatments, and organ transplantation, to name just a few examples. In addition, the department developed strong research ties with the Department of Radiology to evaluate the effectiveness of different imaging systems, with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC to determine the cause of behavioral problems in young adolescents and evaluate efficacies of maintenance therapies in mood disorders and sleep disorders, and with the Department of Epidemiology to evaluate the effect of risk factors related to obesity and diabetes.
Sally Morton joined the Department as Chair in 2010. Before joining the University, she held positions as Vice President for Statistics and Epidemiology at RTI International, and as the head of the RAND Corporation Statistics Group. She served as the President of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in 2009. She brought in strong leadership skills, outstanding teaching/mentoring experience, and internationally recognized research expertise in Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER). As Chair, Morton reorganized infrastructure of the department to make it more efficient and financially sound, recruited outstanding junior and mid-level faculty members, implemented faculty mentoring system, and supported and promoted women’s career development in the field of (Bio)statistics. As an efficient and effective administrator, Morton also served as the Director of the Comparative Effectiveness Research Center (CERC) in the Health Policy Institute, helping numerous investigators on and off campus to get funded through the PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute). She left the University to become Dean of College of Science at Virginia Tech in 2016.
Our department continues to contribute to the discipline in research, education, and service under the leadership of current chair Shyamal Peddada.
Learn more about our current research.