October 15, 2019

‘I’m here to help address important and challenging questions in health’

OICR Biostatistics Training Initiative Fellow and newly-minted PhD, Dr. Osvaldo Espin-Garcia, dedicates his career to cutting-edge clinical cancer research

Osvaldo Espin-Garcia

For Dr. Osvaldo Espin-Garcia, an industry-based job wouldn’t suffice. Having already worked in banking, insurance and telecommunications, Espin-Garcia found that his skills in statistics could be applied to a field that he was much more passionate about. For him, that was health research.

Combining his skills in math with his interest in health, Espin-Garcia left his job in Mexico and moved to Canada to pursue the University of Waterloo’s Master of Mathematics program. His strong academic performance secured him an internship at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PM) where he found his niche in statistical genetics.

“Despite advancements in sequencing technologies, the path between a new -omics discovery and applying that discovery in the clinic remains cumbersome and often costly, especially in large-scale studies,” says Espin-Garcia, who recently completed his PhD at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “We can use statistical techniques and tools to design better trials and make sense of this sequencing data in more efficient ways.”

Espin-Garcia’s internship laid the foundations for his PhD research, where he developed statistical methods and analysis tools to examine the data from genome-wide studies – studies that look at the entire set of genes across many individuals.

In these studies, researchers often examine a sample subset of patient genomes from a large group of patients. These samples are often selected randomly, but Espin-Garcia’s methods allow researchers to select these patients in a “smarter” way.

“Choosing patients randomly is an inefficient way to perform post-genome-wide studies since this strategy fails to incorporate the information that is already available,” says Espin-Garcia. “Our methods allow us to select subgroups of patients whose data will give us rich insights into challenging research questions. That’s what I’m here for, I’m here to help address important and challenging questions in health.”

For this work, Espin-Garcia was awarded a Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) Fellowship, which helped him fast-track the development of his methods and the completion of his PhD.

Now, as a Senior Biostatistician at PM, he is specializing in gastrointestinal cancer studies and continues to develop and apply new tools to support the clinical cancer research community.

“I am grateful for the support I’ve received throughout my training to build my collaborative relationships with clinicians and scientists and learn from incredible mentors,” says Espin-Garcia. “I look forward to supporting more cutting-edge clinical cancer research in the future.”

BTI, a training program co-led by OICR, the University of Waterloo and McMaster University, has supported numerous fellows, like Espin-Garcia, and other studentships over the last decade.

To learn more about the BTI Program, please visit the OICR BTI Program page, the University of Waterloo’s BTI webpage or read more about some of the past studentships.