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Economist and biostatistician join Bloomberg Distinguished Professors

Paul Ferraro works on the scarcity of clean water in his dual Carey and Whiting appointments, and Nilanjan Chatterjee, at Bloomberg and Medicine, on genetic and environmental causes of cancer
Posted November 19, 2015

Economist Paul Ferraro and biostatistician Nilanjan Chatterjee have joined Johns Hopkins as the newest Bloomberg Distinguished Professors.

Ferraro, who holds appointments in the Carey Business School and the Whiting School of Engineering, aims to work across divisions to clarify how societies can best address the increasing scarcity of clean water. As part of that effort, he has brought to Johns Hopkins the USDA Center for Behavioral and Experimental Agri-Environmental Research, which he co-directs with Kent Messer, a professor at the University of Delaware. By running randomized controlled trials within USDA programs, CBEAR seeks to improve the effectiveness of conservation programs intended to help both farmers and the environment.

Chatterjee, with appointments in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, joins Hopkins from the National Institutes of Health, where he had served since 2001, most recently as the chief of the Biostatistics Branch of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

Meet Paul Ferraro

"I came to Johns Hopkins because of the opportunity to work with world-class scientists from a range of fields, many working to put their science to good use in solving social problems," says Ferraro. "New ideas, new challenges, new resources. It's why others have come and stayed at Hopkins. I'm looking forward to my future here."

Starting his career as an ecologist, Ferraro came to economics after a chance encounter with an economist in the southeastern rainforests of Madagascar, where he was studying the ecology of the forest to aid biodiversity conservation efforts. "This economist claimed that environmental problems were not ecological problems, but human behavior problems, and if I wanted to help solve the great environmental issues of our day, I should be studying human behavior," Ferraro explains. "Determined to prove him wrong, I went back to graduate school in economics." Ferraro ended up being a convert. "I still think ecology is important, but now I make the same claim about environmental problems being human behavior problems to every natural and physical scientist I meet."

Because these research areas are multidisciplinary and applied, Ferraro collaborates with fellow experts from a range of social, natural and physical science disciplines, as well as with practitioners in the field.

"Paul is an outstanding addition to the vibrant research faculty at the Carey Business School and will be a valuable collaborator with the Johns Hopkins research community," said Bernard Ferrari, dean of the Carey Business School. "His research illustrates the vital contributions of business and economics in addressing the world's challenges, which is at the core of our school’s mission."

"As an economist with expertise in environmental policy and the integration of biophysical and economic information, Paul conducts important research that stretches and connects a breadth of academic disciplines. I cannot imagine a more fitting recipient of this honor than Paul," said Ed Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.

Meet Nilanjan Chatterjee

Referred to as a biostatistician, quantitative epidemiologist, and statistical geneticist, Chatterjee is a scientist beyond label.

Bridging these disciplines and beyond, Chatterjee has developed an integrated program of collaborative and methodological research to investigate the genetic and environmental causes of cancers. His research has made enormous strides in increasing efficiency of studies of genetic association and gene-environment interactions, evaluating the genetic architecture of complex traits from modern genomewide association studies, and modeling subtype heterogeneity for complex diseases, such as cancer. Chatterjee has also made pioneering contributions to a variety of areas in statistical methodology, such as analyzing data from studies that involve complex ascertainment of participants and combining information from heterogeneous big data sources.

Chatterjee will be participating in the Johns Hopkins Individualized Health Initiative, a priority of the Rising to the Challenge campaign, expanding his research on risk prediction models and their applications to personalized medicine and cost-effective epidemiologic study designs. These studies can expand our understanding of how genetic markers can be used for risk predictions — informing patient treatment — and for developing risk-stratified approaches to public health interventions.

"I am very excited to be at Johns Hopkins because of the opportunities for collaborative interdisciplinary research with some of the best minds in the world. In the future, solving some of the most complex health problems of our society will require team science involving people from diverse fields, including medicine, genetics, computation, engineering, mathematics, and statistics," Chatterjee says. "At Hopkins, I don't have to look far to make these connections, and the possibility to make an impact here is limitless."

"As one of the leading statisticians in his generation, Nilanjan greatly strengthens our scholarship on the genetic determinants of health," says Michael J. Klag, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We enthusiastically anticipate the great work he will accomplish in his new role at the Bloomberg School, especially in developing interdisciplinary education initiatives for our students."

Chatterjee has, in fact, been an integral part of training Johns Hopkins biostatistics students for more than five years. Through the NCI-Hopkins Biostatistics Training Program, select students commenced training in the Department of Biostatistics and completed a PhD dissertation under the guidance of Chatterjee at the National Cancer Institute. Noting mentors who have guided and encouraged him along his own career path, Chatterjee says he is particularly looking forward to expanding his training of the next generation of "interdisciplinarians" at Johns Hopkins.

Paul Rothman, the Frances Watt Baker, M.D., and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D., dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, says, "Nilanjan's exceptional research bridging genetics and biostatistics will enhance our ability to apply mathematical approaches to understanding chronic diseases as well as the genetic basis of cancer. We are very pleased he has decided to make Johns Hopkins his new academic home."

The Bloomberg Distinguished Professorships are supported by a $350 million gift by Johns Hopkins alumnus and former New York City mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg. The majority of this gift is dedicated to creating 50 new interdisciplinary professorships, galvanizing people, resources, research, and educational opportunities to address major world problems. Among those challenges are issues related to individualized health care delivery, global health, the science of learning, and urban revitalization. To date, 16 Bloomberg Distinguished Professors have been appointed across Johns Hopkins University.

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