What’s the chance? Creative statistics revealing how we inherit diseases

Lawrence Creative Prize

Dr Jian Yang, courtesy of University of Queensland News.

Centenary Institute’s 2012 Lawrence Creative Prize winner, Dr Jian Yang, has been awarded a prestigious $1.2 million fellowship to continue his work using maths to unlock the mysteries around why some people are more susceptible to disease than others.

The computational biologist from the University of Queensland won the 2012 Centenary prize for his work developing statistical software to analyse genetic data in a novel way, taking the whole genome into account, not just the genetic variant associated with the disease.

And that is exactly the type of work the Lawrence Creative Prize is developed to foster.

“[The Centenary Institute Lawrence Creative Prize] was specifically designed because creativity in medical research is what’s really going to deliver the future for all Australians”, says Centenary Institute’s Executive Director, Professor Mathew Vadas AO. “It is pleasing to see Jian being supported to stay in Australia and continue his research.”

Dr Yang’s work has shown that inheritance of complex conditions depends on tens and sometimes hundreds of genes which all contribute a little bit to the risk of developing the disease. So we need to sift through samples of a much greater size to find them all. The heritability was not missing, but hiding in the data.

He’s now developing software tools that will analyse millions of DNA markers to provide insight into the heritability of diseases such as schizophrenia, motor neurone disease and cancer. And this fellowship will provide 5 year’s funding towards that work.

“Dr Yang will apply his background in genetics and statistics along with his outstanding skills in computational biology to answer fundamental questions about the genetics of common disease and to develop software tools that will analyse millions of DNA markers,” Professor Visscher from the Queensland Brain Institute told UQ news.

More about the prize and this year’s winners: www.centenary.org.au/p/about/lawrencecreative/shortlist-and-winner/

More about Jian’s Centenary Prize-winning work from 2012: www.centenarynews.org.au/solving-the-puzzle-of-complex-inherited-diseases/