KU Medical Center team finishes near the top in the Prostate Cancer Dream Challenge

September 30, 2015

By Donna Peck

Pictured left to right: Richard Meier; Stefan Graw; Joseph Usset; Eric Dai; Devin Koestler; Prabhakar Chalise; Brooke Fridley; Rama Raghavan

A team of faculty and students from the University of Kansas Medical Center Department of Biostatistics was among the top finishers in the Prostate Cancer Dream Challenge. The worldwide competition was designed to encourage teams to develop prognostic models that predict survival, disease progression, and toxicity of chemotherapy treatments in prostate cancer patients.

Devin Koestler, an assistant professor of biostatistics at KU Medical Center, said the teams participating in the challenge were given raw data sets from four different Phase III clinical trials with over 2,000 castration resistant prostate cancer patients who had been treated with a cancer drug called docetaxel. The teams were then charged with developing a statistical model to predict the survival probability of the patients involved in the clinical trials.

Koestler said while it was exciting competing with teams from around the world, the primary reason the KU biostatistics team wanted to participate was to help come up with better strategies for understanding outcome-disparities among prostate cancer patients.

"We were excited about the opportunity to help establish an effective new treatment protocol for this particular group of patients and helping researchers better understand how the disease progresses," Koestler said.

Koestler said that back in March 2015, the participating teams were given the data from the four docetaxel clinical trials. The KU team, which consisted of eight faculty and students from the Department of Biostatistics and one prostate cancer researcher, had to meticulously go through the data set to identify incomplete data and any inconsistencies and to come up with predictive models based on the data.

"There were four rounds of the competition, with the teams ranked after each round," Koestler said. "When the fourth round was completed in July, our team was ranked in the top five out of 60 teams worldwide."

The team finishing at the top was from Finland.

Matthew Mayo, Ph.D., chair of the KU Department of Biostatistics, said the Dream Challenge encouraged faculty and students to work together in a collaborative way.

"I think the challenge epitomizes the way our biostatistics department works," Mayo said. "We were able to get our students working with faculty in a real study that has the potential to impact thousands of patients."

In addition to Koestler, the members of the KU team included Prabhakar Chalise, Junqiang Dai, Shellie Ellis, Brooke Fridley, Stefan Graw, Richard Meier, Rama Raghavan and Joseph Usset.

The results of the competition and the statistical models developed by the KU biostatistics team and the other winning teams are being published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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