NEW YORK: Indian American Dr. Bani K. Mallick, distinguished professor of statistics at Texas A&M University, has been selected to receive a Fulbright Distinguished Chair for 2017-2018.
Awards from the Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program are viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program. Although some 800 faculty and professionals earn Fulbright Scholar grants annually, Distinguished Chairs are only awarded to approximately 40 individuals worldwide each year, according to a press release.
Mallick has been recognized with the Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Chair, named to honor his host country, India, and its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. He will spend four months later this year conducting research and lecturing at institutes across India on his chosen topic, big data cancer research.
“Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world,” Mallick said, in a statement. “According to the World Health Organization, 8.8 million people worldwide died from cancer in 2015. In India, the estimated number of people living with this disease is 2.5 million, with cancer-related deaths at half a million each year.”
In addition to being one of the world’s primary causes of death, cancer is one of its biggest data-generating problems. Mallick, a distinguished professor and holder of the Susan M. Arseven ’75 Chair in Data Science and Computational Statistics in the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, currently is using his extensive expertise in Bayesian statistics and a $2.3 million National Institutes of Health grant to develop new statistical models and methods designed to merge two vital informational areas: cancer-related data and analysis.
“The world of bioinformatics and big data are joining together to discover innovative ways to integrate knowledge for cancer treatments,” Mallick said. “This project will create a wide assortment of novel methods for better integrating large cancer data across platforms so that we can effectively obtain a much more complete understanding of cancer characteristics and behavior and thereby improve its prevention, prediction and treatment.”
Globally renowned as a pioneer in Bayesian nonparametric regression and classification research, Mallick is considered one of today’s most influential and productive statisticians. He is director of both the Center for Statistical Bioinformatics and the Bayesian Bioinformatics Laboratory and has developed novel methodology and theory that has become the foundation for interdisciplinary research in myriad fields, from bioinformatics and veterinary medicine to engineering and traffic mapping.
As the Fulbright-Nehru Distinguished Chair, Mallick will be hosted by the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), established as an autonomous institution by the Government of India under the Department of Biotechnology and explicitly devoted to research, training, translation and service, and capacity-building in biomedical genomics. He also will spend time at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC), one of the top management schools in India that was established by the Indian government in 1961 as the first national institute for post-graduate studies and research in management. In addition, Mallick will visit the Departments of Statistics at Calcutta University and Presidency University, two of the oldest statistics departments in the world.
Mallick says he chose India for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the country is a founding member of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), formed in 2009 to enable cancer geneticists around the world to share their data in a global effort to identify the DNA alternations that cause cells to produce various types of cancer and to better understand the biological actions of these alterations.
“Oral cancer is the eighth most common cancer worldwide and is the leading cancer among males in India,” Mallick said. “Therefore, this type of cancer is of great societal importance in India. Annually more than 260,000 new cases arise, accounting for about 128,000 deaths.”
Mallick’s host institution, NIBMG, is a collaborative partner in the ICGC, and he will have the opportunity to work directly with researchers there and the benefit of indispensable resources, including access to the country’s oral cancer data.
“Indian graduate students are very well trained in statistical theory and methods,” Mallick said. “Their experience in the oral cancer research will be invaluable during the course of this project.
“I hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of our methods by targeting a variety of major tumor types, but our methods will be generally applicable to all cancers. In addition to novel algorithms and models, I will create robust, efficient software implementations of our methods for use by cancer researchers worldwide.”
In addition to collaborating with India’s top scientists and graduate researchers, Mallick will be working to train the country’s next generation of data science professionals. At Calcutta University, for example, he will be teaching a novel course on applied statistics that will combine statistical bioinformatics with big data computation — the type of cutting-edge course that presently doesn’t exist anywhere in the country. He also plans to help develop a regular course on big data analysis and applications.
As one of the editors of the Indian statistics journal Sankhya, Mallick says he’s also looking forward on both professional and personal levels to the opportunity to meet researchers from all around India and to inspire them to publish research articles in this top-level international journal.
For his part in the publishing realm, Mallick hopes to write a monograph on big data informatics and its application after he concludes his Fulbright trip — a publication that he notes would be of interest to biologists, statisticians, computer scientists and bioinformatics professionals worldwide.
The Fulbright Scholar Program was established in 1946 as the result of Senator J. William Fulbright’s efforts. it is administered by the U.S. Department of State, with the goal of seeking to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.