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April 2, 2018

2018 Carl Cotman Young Investigator Award Recipient Is a Rising Star

Statistics Ph.D. student Andrew Holbrook received the UCI MIND award for his exceptional work in theoretical mathematics, probability, statistics, and neuroscience and aging.

On Thursday, March 29, statistics Ph.D. student Andrew Holbrook received the 2018 Carl Cotman Young Investigator Award from UCI’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (MIND). The award is given to a senior graduate student or junior postdoctoral student who has made a significant contribution in research on neurological disorders. Such contributions support MIND’s mission to enhance the quality of life for older adults by researching genetic, clinical and lifestyle factors that promote successful brain aging.

“I was thrilled and surprised when I found out I would be winning the award,” says Holbrook, whose graduate research has tied together neuroscience, statistics, and geometry. He goes on, “I was thrilled because Professor Cotman has been an important leader both here at UC Irvine and in the field in general.” Carl Cotman, founder of the institute that eventually became MIND, is a distinguished scholar in the area of brain aging and is world renowned for his work on assessing the mechanisms that lead to Alzheimer’s Disease. Cotman remains active in the field, researching the role of exercise in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline.

Regarding his surprise at winning this distinguished award, Holbrook explains, “I was surprised because I’m just a statistician, and I’ve met so many talented graduate student neurobiologists studying memory and the aging brain here at UCI.”

Daniel Gillen, Professor and Chair of Statistics, would likely challenge Holbrook’s assessment that he’s “just a statistician.” In nominating Holbrook for the award, Gillen noted, “he is a rare breed in that he excels in theoretical mathematics, probability, statistics, and most importantly for this award, neuroscience and aging.” Holbrook served as a pre-doctoral trainee at MIND under Gillen’s supervision, helping design statistical models that leverage non-invasive, MRI-based biomarkers. The models were then used to track patients’ memory function as a function ofstructural brain changes through time.

Holbrook’s Ph.D. advisor, Associate Professor Babak Shahbaba, admits that he was initially “skeptical” that Holbrook would succeed in the field of statistics, given he had earned his degree in German and classical languages. “Holbrook proved me wrong,” says Shahbaba. “He has become by far one of the best Ph.D. students we have ever had in our program.”

In June, Holbrook says he will start a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA with Biomathematics Professor Marc Suchard, adding, “I will be using genetic data to model the effects of viral hemorrhagic fevers, such as Lassa and Ebola.”

More generally, Gillen asserts that Holbrook “is a rising star that will be able to fuse much of the theory and methodology that will drive machine learning, data science and statistics for applications in neuroscience.”

Shani Murray