DLSPH’s STAGE Celebrates Anniversary and Finds New Home in Statistical and Data Science Research Hub

February 19/2020

by: CANSSI Ontario and DLSPH

DLSPH’s Strategic Training for Advanced Genetic Epidemiology (STAGE) program celebrates its eleventh anniversary this year. It officially joined the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI) Ontario Regional Centre, housed in an extra-departmental unit in the Faculty of Arts and Science, last November.

“The partnership with CANSSI Ontario is an exciting new phase for STAGE,” said DLSPH Professor France Gagnon, one of STAGE’s inaugural co-directors, “it is evidence that the combination of a grassroots-driven initiative, methodological innovation, and injection of dedicated research dollars to foster and support trainees’ careers leads to scalable and sustainable programs. ”

Bringing STAGE into CANSSI Ontario is a new phase in its journey. Genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics gained interest in the late 1990’s. That same decade, a journal club and research seminar, the precursors to STAGE, were formed. The research group’s main founders developed a graduate course in genetic statistics in Toronto to support their work.

The research group brought new investigators in epidemiology and biostatistics into the fold, including Lisa Strug, CANSSI Ontario Interim Director and Faculty of Arts and Science and DLSPH Professor, who was then a graduate student and trainee. In 2009, the research group received a CIHR grant to support a formal training program at DLSPH that integrated statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology. STAGE was born. The grant would also support the development of a hub for genome data science in Toronto.

As STAGE progressed, it developed collaborations with various research institutes and partners for its International Seminar Speaker Series, including, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (Sinai Health System), SickKids, OICR, UHN, the McLaughlin Centre, and more recently CAMH and the Fields Institute.

Over a decade, STAGE had offered research training and career development opportunities in population health sciences, epidemiology and statistical genetics. It provided additional advanced quantitative and cross-disciplinary training that upskills a new generation of quantitative scientists.

Now, CANSSI Ontario supports STAGE operations and trainees with new funding, enabling new calls for STAGE trainee applications. CANSSI Ontario’s goal is to strengthen and enhance research in data science, promoting interdisciplinary training and multidisciplinary activities.   CANSSI Ontario’s support of STAGE as well as other programs through The Banting Research Foundation, U of T’s Department of Statistical Sciences and ICES provides data science program development leadership within the University of Toronto community that will extend its reach on the local and provincial levels.

“We are thrilled to partner with STAGE to increase research capacity, nurture the next generation of data scientists in genomics, and add value to the data-intensive research done at U of T,” said Strug.

“CANSSI Ontario STAGE can provide research support for trainees as well as travel awards to present their work at national and international meetings,” said Jennifer Brooks, who is co-director of STAGE.

“An important part of the STAGE program is its International Speaker Seminar Series which brings international experts in the field to Toronto to give a seminar and meet with local investigators and trainees. That takes a lot of coordination and that’s a big part of the support we will receive from CANSSI Ontario.”

Strug says collaborations and initiatives like STAGE will further CANSSI Ontario’s mandate to bring together researchers and trainees in quantitative and data-intensive fields to answer the big questions facing our society today.