Interview with Jacobo de Uña-Álvarez, PI for SIDOR, Statistical Inference, Decision and Operational Research group

“We have a very high degree of internationalization, with collaborators in prestigious institutions from all five continents”

Jacobo de Uña-Álvarez, Ph.D in Mathematics, coordinates SIDOR (Statistical Inference, Decision and Operative Research group); a group created in 1998 at the University of Vigo which specialises in statistic models and methods. With a team made up of more than 30 researchers, SIDOR has been recognised as a Competitive Reference Research Group by the Xunta de Galicia since 2008.

What are the group’s main lines of research and what differences in approach do you have in comparison to similar groups? What are your main added values as a research group? (e.g. cross-disciplinary aspects of the group, established collaboration networks, etc.)

SIDOR group carries out basic research in the field of Statistics and Operations Research. Within biostatistics, our main lines of research are: survival analysis and multi-state models; the evaluation of diagnostic and prognostic tests; regression and prediction in high dimensional data and omic data; and multiple comparison methods.

SIDOR is the only research group with these capabilities in the south of Galicia.  Besides carrying out basic research in Mathematics and developing statistical software, it is a group that collaborates with researchers from many diverse fields (Medicine, Biology, Engineering, Economics…). We have a high degree of internationalization, with collaborators in prestigious institutions from all five continents. To demonstrate this, we have just organised the Annual Conference of the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics in Vigo for more than 600 professionals in this field from all over the world.

High-quality, rapid analysis of large arrays of data is one of the challenges of the future faced by fields such as biomedicine and economics. In what way does your group contribute to optimising these highly complex analytical processes?

Nowadays, mass data storage is a reality. This fact has generated some interesting questions about the storage, management and use of this kind of data. Statistical techniques and models make possible to identify patterns or unique characteristics within that huge cloud. High dimensional data and Big Data have led to the appearance of new lines of basic research in Mathematical Statistics, such as inference techniques in the ‘small n, large p’ context, which refers to situations where many variables measured in a small sample of individuals. SIDOR has developed solutions in this context during the last years. It is an exciting moment for methodological research.

In this respect, what are the most significant applications of your research results? What social and / or economic benefits (either currently or in the future) does it offer to society / industry?

Applications are diverse given that Statistics is transversal science. Specific examples include applications in health, such as the identification of markers for cancer or for the progression of HIV; the detection of alterations in regions of DNA from sequencing experiments, which is of great interest in the study of various pathologies. In other fields, such as economics and engineering for example, SIDOR group has favoured the overall progress of knowledge through the development and application of the appropriate statistical models.

What is the goup’s view and experience regarding processes related to technology transfer?

Members of SIDOR have participated in various patents. However, the group’s vocation is that of contributing to knowledge progress accessible to everyone. Most of our statistical software is developed in the free environment R.

We do understand, however, that companies have restrictions regarding the communication of results. SIDOR’s researchers participate in various national and European projects (H2020) with partners from the business world and we work together perfectly.

What are the main achievements of the group in its nearly 20-year research history? What are the challenges for the future as a research group? 

Without any doubt, the main achievement is the transformation from what SIDOR was in 1998, a small group of Ph.Ds in Mathematics, into an established Statistics and Operations Research group which generates knowledge of the very highest level. This task has represented a great responsability, but also a great honour.

We have consolidated a fantastic postgraduate training product: a Master Degree in Statistical Techniques and a Doctorate Program in Statistics and Operational Research. We also collaborate in offering statistics courses as part of many other degree courses.

We have also managed to secure funding for research at a both national and international level, and the group is world-renowned for its quality. The main challenge for the future is to remain aware of the needs that are being generated by the changing society in which we live, so we can continue offering a useful service and preserve the fantastic research environment which has been a key element of the group since its origins. Thanks to the professional and human quality of our team, the researchers recruited by the group have adapted themselves extraordinarily well to our work dynamic.

What does CINBIO offer to a group like yours in terms of maximising potential and international relevance?

SIDOR’s potential and its degree of internationalisation are already quite high. We view SIDOR’s participation in CINBIO as a chance to make a qualitative leap forward in knowledge transfer to the field of biomedicine. All of us must now make a joint effort to ensure that CINBIO becomes much more than just the sum of its parts.

Besides your participation in CINBIO, what other relevant networks or consortiums are you actively participating in?

SIDOR participates in the Spanish Network for Mathematics and Industry (Math-in), whose aim is to promote mathematical knowledge transfer to industry. Some of its members are also part of the Technological Institute for Industrial Mathematics (ITMATI), a Galician consortium which promotes the interaction between the academia and the private companies in the field of mathematics.