2017 Archives

SMU graduate student Yu Lan wins prestigious Thomas Chalmers Award for new method of statistical analysis

Lan’s method helps researchers better predict results of clinical trials

June 21, 2017

DALLAS (SMU) — SMU statistics Ph.D. student Yu Lan received the Dr. Thomas Chalmers Award May 9 in Liverpool, England, for a paper he wrote on a new, money-saving method for predicting clinical trial outcomes.

Yu Lan and Daniel Heitjan
Yu Lan (left) and Prof. Daniel Heitjan

Lan, a student of SMU biostatistics program director Professor Daniel Heitjan, took a fresh look at data from the International Chronic Granulomatous Disease Study to develop his method of predicting clinical trial outcomes on the fly.

In clinical trials, it is common to conduct one or more interim analyses of the accumulating data, typically upon occurrence of pre-specified numbers of events such as heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations or deaths.  Traditionally researchers predict the timing of these events before launching their clinical trials and then hope for the best. When predictions are inaccurate – perhaps a trial is running its course faster or slower than expected – this can lead to a waste of resources.

Lan’s method allows companies to periodically update their predictions of when a trial has run its course and adjust their budgets and expectations accordingly.

“It could find quite a bit of use in the pharmaceutical industry, because they spend big money on trials,” Heitjan said. “If something goes wrong or the researchers want to change course midstream, it can cost them hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, so they want to use these methods to predict what’s happening and adjust if necessary to make sure the trial gets accomplished in the most efficient way.”

Lan primarily worked with Heitjan and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to develop his methodology. He hopes the Chalmers Award will help him land a job in the pharmaceutical industry after he graduates in August.

“This experience helped prepare me for a career in the pharmaceutical industry working with clinical trials,” Lan said. “The Thomas Chalmers Award will be a shining point in my resume that will help me distinguish myself.”

Heitjan seconded that notion.

“He’s the No. 1 clinical trials statistics graduate student in the world,” he said. “It’s a big honor.”

As a finalist, Lan was granted an expenses-paid trip to present his paper at the Society for Clinical Trials annual meeting in Liverpool. Competing against two other finalists, Lan won over the judges with his presentation to earn a $500 cash prize.


A nationally ranked private university with seven degree-granting schools, SMU is a distinguished center for teaching and research located near the heart of Dallas. SMU's 11,000 students benefit from small classes, research opportunities, leadership development, international study and innovative programs. The University is strengthened by its partnership with the Dallas region, a global center of commerce and culture. SMU students, faculty and alumni are changing the world through their chosen fields, civic engagement and service to society.



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