Spotlight on Vanderbilt Biostatistics: Dan Byrne

This week we are featuring Dan Byrne, Senior Associate in Biostatistics and Director of Quality Improvement & Program Evaluation in the Vanderbilt Department of Biostatistics.  Read on to learn more about his work and interests here at Vanderbilt.

What is your area of focus and what have been the major findings so far in your research?
My research focuses on how we can use biostatistics, predictive models, and artificial intelligence to improve health outcomes.  In our Learning Healthcare System Platform, we have created a "Dream Team," which is working on conducting large pragmatic trials during routine clinical care.  Recently, we published two papers in The New England Journal of Medicine showing that balanced IV fluids are superior to saline.  We estimated that these findings could save thousands of lives per year.  The next step in this research is to ensure that these safer fluids are ordered in the hospital and assess the impact on mortality.  In other words, have we completed the last mile of work in biostatistics to make sure our results are implemented in a sustainable way?

Tell us about your publications.
I have published more than 130 papers and one book, “Publishing Your Medical Research”; 18 years ago, I was recruited to Vanderbilt based on this book.

What is your current research interest and what do you hope to see come from it in the future?
My current interest is in testing with randomized controlled trials how artificial intelligence methods can be used to improve patient outcomes.  Our Cornelius team has created a large number of real-time predictive models, for example for readmissions and pressure ulcers, and tested these in randomized controlled trials.  We are now exploring Deep Learning methods and working to create the Vanderbilt Artificial Intelligence Lab (VAIL).  The current challenge is how to integrate predictive models and AI tools into hospital operations while conducting a randomized controlled trial.  This will be the area in which Vanderbilt can become a leader in this exploding field.

What is your best advice for aspiring statisticians?
My advice is to be relentlessly helpful and positive in teaching biostatistics and supporting physician-scientists so that they can become successful researchers.  Also, I would advise aspiring statisticians to become leaders at making forward progress in improving health outcomes and avoid the Brownian motion of academic medicine. Over the past 35 years, I have trained hundreds of physician-scientists, mostly in the MSCI program; and this approach has worked for me.

In your experience, what makes Vanderbilt special?
The research that we are doing in the Learning Healthcare System and artificial intelligence requires an enormous amount of collaboration and respect for the scientific method.  Vanderbilt is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this area based on our culture of collegiality and our strength in medical research.  It has been an honor to work with so many amazing people at Vanderbilt and see all of these programs that we created flourish and help others, for example: the Department of Biostatistics, The Biostatistics Graduate Program, Biostatistics Clinics, Clinical and Translational Research Studios, Go for the Gold employee wellness program, Flulapalooza, CRC Research Skills Workshops, the Learning Healthcare System Platform, The Master of Science in Clinical Investigation program, and the Cornelius predictive modeling project.  Before coming to Vanderbilt, I was a self-employed statistical consultant for 10 years.  Hopefully, based on this experience and our culture, we can be as nimble as entrepreneurs and as rigorous as academics to develop and test artificial intelligence methods in a way that impacts health outcomes.

Tell us about your life outside of Vanderbilt.
I have a wonderful wife, Loretta, and two great children, Michael and Virginia; and I enjoy taking adventurous vacations with my family.  I just returned from a 4-day sailing trip with my son Michael.