Lei Sun, CRM-SSC Prize in Statistics 2017
The CRM-SSC Prize in Statistics is awarded annually by the Centre de recherches mathématiques (CRM) and the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC). It is awarded in recognition of a statistical scientist’s professional accomplishments in research during the first fifteen years after having received a doctorate.
This year’s winner is Lei Sun of the University of Toronto.
Lei’s undergraduate degree is in mathematics from Fudan University in Shanghai. She received her PhD degree in statistics from the University of Chicago. Her thesis, supervised by Professor Mary-Sara McPeek, on “Two statistical problems in human genetics” launched her career in statistical genetics, a career for which she is now internationally renowned. Lei joined the University of Toronto in 2001 as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Biostatistics at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. In 2014 she was promoted to Full Professor, with a joint appointment in the Department of Statistical Sciences and the Division of Biostatistics.
Professor Sun’s research program investigates novel statistical methods, and develops powerful computational tools for advancing understanding of the genetic basis of complex human traits. This work has spurred new research directions in statistical methodology, and has also been very influential in genetics research. Her collaborations with Lisa Strug and Andrew Paterson at The Hospital for Sick Children have provided important insights into the mechanisms of cystic fibrosis and type 1 diabetes complications.
One theme of her methodological research is the development of improved large-scale multiple hypothesis testing methods. Together with Radu Craiu and other colleagues, she developed the concepts of the stratified false discovery rate (sFDR) and the non-discovery rate (NDR) for false negatives. This has had considerable impact on current large-scale whole-genome association studies in the human genetics community. For example, a recent Nature study by Nik-Zainal et al. (2016) applied the sFDR “to increase sensitivity … in identification of novel breast cancer genes”. Another major area of accomplishment is the development of robust methods for genetic association studies. With Shelley Bull she developed a general resampling-based solution to reduce selection bias, the so-called ‘winner’s curse’ which is an upward bias in the estimated effect of a newly identified variant on disease. An exciting line of work on joint modeling of multiple genetic variants has recently been developed in collaboration with Jerry Lawless and student Andriy Derkach, published in Genetic Epidemiology, Statistical Science and Biometrika.
Lei has an outstanding record of training students and research assistants, and of publishing work with them. Two of her students were finalists, and one the winner, of the Williams Award of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society in 2012, and her student David Soave had his 2015 paper on joint location-scale test selected by the American Society of Human Genetics’ Training and Development Committee for its “Trainee Paper Spotlight”. She and her team have provided a number of open-source, user-friendly software packages for implementation of her methods. Her 2012 collaborative work in cystic fibrosis at Sickkids with Strug and Johanna Rommens published in Nature Genetics has been widely cited and was highlighted by the McLaughlin Centre as one of the “10 Big Stories in Personalized Medicine”.
It is not possible to do justice to her many contributions to science in this short article: she has over sixty publications in statistics and medical journals, and her work has been recognized by NSERC and CIHR. External assessments of her research use phrases like “consummate statistician”, “research [that] helps to shape the discipline”, “originality and insight”. We are very lucky to have Lei advancing the fields of statistics and genetics in Canada, and look forward to her future successes.
Lei will present an overview of her work in a special session at this year’s SSC Annual Meeting at the University of Manitoba.
The citation for the award reads:
"To Lei Sun, for original and influential contributions to statistical methodology, statistical genetics, and human genetics, including important new developments in false discovery rate control and in robust methods for genetic association studies, and for her outstanding contributions to mentoring and training in statistical genetics in Canada."