Studying Statistics: Vital for Research, Vital for Health

Dr Ricardo Segurados’ work involves helping other researchers with study designs, analysing their data and interpreting their results - from a huge range of biological and medical research.

He is the deputy director of CSTAR which is the UCD Centre for Support and Training in Analysis and Research. He teaches on the CSTAR courses and is continuing to develop courses to teach people software and data analysis basics.

Through CSTAR Dr Segurado does some consulting for the National Maternity Hospital and has a current collaboration with Professor Cecily Kelleher of UCD and Professor Fionnuala McAuliffe from the National Maternity Hospital.

Their research team are examining children’s growth and development at certain time points. They are examining data such as height, weight, growth rates, body fat levels and looking for associations between these features and general health and future disease risk.

He remarks:

"As there is a current obesity crisis it is important to use research findings to potentially intervene in the obesity development process as early as possible in life."

This intervention process may include looking at blood markers which are not only associated with poor health of the mother, but may give an idea about poor diet, or whether their genetics can act as a good future health predictor of their child. This may help identify which groups may need intervention more than others.
Common complex diseases have many factors and are also very genetically complex. Finding these genes has proven extremely difficult as there could be hundreds or thousands of genes involved with very small effect.
Dr Segurado is currently collaborating with researchers in UCD, including Dr Gerry Wilson in the School of Medicine, examining gene mapping studies and trying to identify genes for rheumatoid arthritis.
The methods for analyzing genetic data have a pedigree that predates the whole genome and big data approach, so often it is unclear how older data analysis methods scale up.Dr Segurado is examining how those older methods might be improved or adapted to very large scale data analysis.
He also collaborates with researchers in the UCD School of Agricultural and Food Science on a twin study, investigating whether nutrition related blood markers are influenced by genetics: whether they are more similar in identical twins, than within fraternal twin pairs.
Another role he has within the University is in educating other researchers, a role which he is passionate about. He says "as important as pure research is, teaching researchers is equally as important."

Dr Segurado leads a Professional Certificate in Statistics for Human Genetics for clinicians or researchers with an interest in the chances of genetic associations having an actionable impact on a disease. Additionally, he teaches how to design studies and apply more complex statistical methods on the MSc in Public Health.

Working on clinical trial design and data analysis has impact for doctors and researchers, but ultimately might have a variety of impacts on patients and the public.

"There is a child obesity crisis as much as an adult one, so it is important to develop the methods which will let researchers know whether and when early intervention works."

This is hopefully not only to prevent later disease. Dr Segurado thinks that by preventing young children from being too overweight and obese in early life, this can help them eat healthily and exercise appropriately through the lifespan, making this a way of life they can pass on to their own children.

He also comments on potential predisposing genetic factors that may be influencing the obesity crisis.

"That is something still being researched - do maternal characteristics, such as maternal blood markers and maternal diet during pregnancy, feed into a growth trajectory which is a bit skewed in the child."

Genetic medicine is most likely to have clinical impact on rare diseases. Those are commonly caused by a once-off mutation, or one or two very rare inherited variants and usually lead to a more severe disease.

Dr Segurado says a single gene-disorder is much more amenable to developing a genetic test. Existing examples are cystic fibrosis and some of the other diseases that are currently screened for in the neonatal blood spot. Knowing when a disease with a known gene is amenable to being rolled out as a genetic test is something that both clinicians and policy makers need to have awareness of-to develop systems and services fit for purpose.

Part of what Dr Segurado does is trying to educate and set the foundations for research around genetic medicine. He thinks clinical genetics is underfunded in Ireland and thus lagging in best practice. Clinical trials must use state of the art methods or the best methods appropriate for their design and must avoid the pitfalls of conducting research using what can be quite complex measurements and systems.

Much of Dr Segurados’ work, particularly in biostatistics, has impact on other academics and their research. It enables them, teaches them and helps them get the most out of their analysis. This enhances the robustness and strength of their research.

About the researcher

Dr Ricardo Segurado is an Associate Professor in Public Health Biostatistics in the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, and a Consultant Biostatistician and Deputy Director of the UCD Centre for Support and Training in Analysis and Research (CSTAR).

His research and contacts for potential students or collaborators can be found at http://geneticepi.ucd.ie

Associated References

Bartels, H.C., O’Connor, C., Segurado, R., Mason, O., Mehegan, J., Geraghty, A.A., O’Brien, E., Walsh, J. and McAuliffe, F., 2018. Fetal growth trajectories and their association with maternal and child characteristics. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, pp.1-7. Click here

Casey, M.B., Smart, K., Segurado, R., Hearty, C., Gopal, H., Lowry, D., Flanagan, D., McCracken, L. and Doody, C., 2018. Exercise combined with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ExACT) compared to a supervised exercise programme for adults with chronic pain: Study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 19(1), p.194. Click here

Cronin, F.M., Segurado, R., McAuliffe, F.M., Kelleher, C.C. and Tremblay, R.E., 2016. Gestational age at birth and ‘Body-Mind’health at 5 years of age: a population based cohort study. PloS one, 11(3), p.e0151222.Click here

Geraghty, A.A., O’Brien, E.C., Alberdi, G., Horan, M.K., Donnelly, J., Larkin, E., Segurado, R., Mehegan, J., Molloy, E.J. and McAuliffe, F.M., 2018. Maternal protein intake during pregnancy is associated with child growth up to 5 years of age, but not through insulin-like growth factor-1: findings from the ROLO study. British Journal of Nutrition, 120(11), pp.1252-1261. Click here

Glaser, B., Nikolov, I., Chubb, D., Hamshere, M.L., Segurado, R., Moskvina, V. and Holmans, P., 2007, December. Analyses of single marker and pairwise effects of candidate loci for rheumatoid arthritis using logistic regression and random forests. In BMC proceedings (Vol. 1, No. 1, p. S54). BioMed Central. Click here

Hamshere, M.L., Segurado, R., Moskvina, V., Nikolov, I., Glaser, B. and Holmans, P.A., 2007, December. Large-scale linkage analysis of 1302 affected relative pairs with rheumatoid arthritis. In BMC proceedings (Vol. 1, No. 1, p. S100). BioMed Central.Click here

Heron, E.A., O'dushlaine, C., Segurado, R., Gallagher, L. and Gill, M., 2011. Exploration of empirical Bayes hierarchical modeling for the analysis of genome-wide association study data. Biostatistics, 12(3), pp.445-461.Click here

Pato, M.T., Sobell, J.L., Medeiros, H., Abbott, C., Sklar, B.M., Buckley, P.F., Bromet, E.J., Escamilla, M.A., Fanous, A.H., Lehrer, D.S. and Macciardi, F., 2013. The genomic psychiatry cohort: partners in discovery. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, 162(4), pp.306-312.Click here

Segurado, R., Bellgrove, M.A., Manconi, F., Gill, M. and Hawi, Z., 2011. Epistasis between neurochemical gene polymorphisms and risk for ADHD. European Journal of Human Genetics, 19(5), p.577. Click here

Segurado, R., Hamshere, M.L., Glaser, B., Nikolov, I., Moskvina, V. and Holmans, P.A., 2007, December. Combining linkage data sets for meta-analysis and mega-analysis: the GAW15 rheumatoid arthritis data set. In BMC proceedings (Vol. 1, No. 1, p. S104). BioMed Central. Click here

UCD Center for Support and Training in Analysis and Research.

UCD Professional Certificate in Statistical Genetics.

Viljoen, K., Segurado, R., O’Brien, J., Murrin, C., Mehegan, J. and Kelleher, C.C., 2018. Pregnancy diet and offspring asthma risk over a 10-year period: the Lifeways Cross Generation Cohort Study, Ireland. BMJ open, 8(2), p.e017013. Click here

Dr Ricardo Segurado

Genetic Epidemiology in UCD Webpage (2019)

Ricardo Segurado on Twitter