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Statistics Ph.D. student Mary Ryan has been awarded a 2019-2020 Public Impact Fellowship, which supports graduate students whose research “demonstrates the potential to significantly improve or enrich the lives of Californians and/or national and global communities.” With her research into statistical methodology related to identifying biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease, the impact of her work has far-reaching potential. The debilitating neurodegenerative disorder currently affects approximately 5.6 million Americans over the age of 65, and that number is projected to reach 13.8 million by 2050.

“It’s an honor to be named a Public Impact Fellow,” says Ryan, who joined the UCI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) in 2017 and is currently working under the mentorship of Professor and Statistics Chair Daniel Gillen. She is also co-chair of UCI REMIND, a student-led outreach organization that promotes public education on neurodegenerative diseases, and a member of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) Ambassador Program. Her goal is to work at a public university in a research faculty position.

“My research aims to speed the efforts and reduce the cost of identifying new Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers by extending an existing experimental study statistical methodology, called group sequential design, to the observational study settings in which we do much biomarker research.” Discovery of new biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease could provide new targets for treatments and early warnings to patients. At the same time, efforts to speed the discovery of these biomarkers could help researchers find a cure for the disease more quickly.

As a Public Impact Fellow, Ryan will receive not only a $1,000 stipend but also a sense of validation for her work.

“Obviously, most of us believe our research is important and has an impact on society — it’s part of why we do what we do,” she explains, “but it’s gratifying to have that outside validation that other people think it’s important work as well.”

Shani Murray