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2017 CRM-SSC Prize Recipient
CRM > Prizes > CRM-SSC Prize > Recipients >Lei Sun

2017 CRM-SSC Prize Recipient
Lei Sun (University of Toronto)
[ français ]

The CRM-SSC Prize in Statistics is awarded annually by the Centre de recherches mathématiques (CRM) and the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC). It is awarded in recognition of a statistical scientist’s professional accomplishments in research during the first fifteen years after having received a doctorate.

This year’s winner is Lei Sun of the University of Toronto. She will be giving her talk at the CRM on January 26, 2018 at 3:30 pm.



TITRE / TITLE : Back to the future: why I think REGRESSION is the new black in genetic association studies

LIEU / PLACE : CRM, UdeM, Pav. André-Aisenstadt, 2920, ch. de la Tour, salle 6254

DATE : Le vendredi 26 janvier 2018 / Friday, January 26, 2018

HEURE / TIME : 15h30 / 3:30 p.m.

RESUME / ABSTRACT : Linear regression remains an important framework in the era of big and complex data. In this talk I present some recent examples where we resort to the classical simple linear regression model and its celebrated extensions in novel settings. The Eureka moment came while reading Wu and Guan's (2015) comments on our generalized Kruskal-Wallis (GKW) test (Elif Acar and Sun 2013, Biometrics). Wu and Guan presented an alternative “rank linear regression model and derived the proposed GKW statistic as a score test statistic", and astutely pointed out that “the linear model approach makes the derivation more straightforward and transparent, and leads to a simplified and unified approach to the general rank based multi-group comparison problem." More recently, we turned our attention to extending Levene's variance test for data with group uncertainty and sample correlation. While a direct modification of the original statistic is indeed challenging, I will demonstrate that a two-stage regression framework makes the ensuing development quite straightforward, eventually leading to a generalized joint location-scale test (David Soave and Sun 2017, Biometrics). Finally, I will discuss on-going work, with graduate student Lin Zhang, on developing an allele-based association test that is robust to the assumption of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and is generalizable to complex data structure. The crux of this work is, again, reformulating the problem as a regression!


Lei’s undergraduate degree is in mathematics from Fudan University in Shanghai. She received her PhD degree in statistics from the University of Chicago. Her thesis, supervised by Professor Mary-Sara McPeek, on "Two statistical problems in human genetics" launched her career in statistical genetics, a career for which she is now internationally renowned. Lei joined the University of Toronto in 2001 as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Biostatistics at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. In 2014 she was promoted to Full Professor, with a joint appointment in the Department of Statistical Sciences and the Division of Biostatistics.

Professor Sun’s research program investigates novel statistical methods, and develops powerful computational tools for advancing understanding of the genetic basis of complex human traits. This work has spurred new research directions in statistical methodology, and has also been very influential in genetics research. Her collaborations with Lisa Strug and Andrew Paterson at The Hospital for Sick Children have provided important insights into the mechanisms of cystic fibrosis and type 1 diabetes complications.

One theme of her methodological research is the development of improved large-scale multiple hypothesis testing methods. Together with Radu Craiu and other colleagues, she developed the concepts of the stratified false discovery rate (sFDR) and the non-discovery rate (NDR) for false negatives. This has had considerable impact on current large-scale whole-genome association studies in the human genetics community. For example, a recent Nature study by Nik-Zainal et al. (2016) applied the sFDR "to increase sensitivity … in identification of novel breast cancer genes". Another major area of accomplishment is the development of robust methods for genetic association studies. With Shelley Bull she developed a general resampling-based solution to reduce selection bias, the so-called ‘winner’s curse’ which is an upward bias in the estimated effect of a newly identified variant on disease. An exciting line of work on joint modeling of multiple genetic variants has recently been developed in collaboration with Jerry Lawless and student Andriy Derkach, published in Genetic Epidemiology, Statistical Science and Biometrika.

Lei has an outstanding record of training students and research assistants, and of publishing work with them. Two of her students were finalists, and one the winner, of the Williams Award of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society in 2012, and her student David Soave had his 2015 paper on joint location-scale test selected by the American Society of Human Genetics’ Training and Development Committee for its "Trainee Paper Spotlight". She and her team have provided a number of open-source, user-friendly software packages for implementation of her methods. Her 2012 collaborative work in cystic fibrosis at Sickkids with Strug and Johanna Rommens published in Nature Genetics has been widely cited and was highlighted by the McLaughlin Centre as one of the "10 Big Stories in Personalized Medicine".

It is not possible to do justice to her many contributions to science in this short article: she has over sixty publications in statistics and medical journals, and her work has been recognized by NSERC and CIHR. External assessments of her research use phrases like "consummate statistician", "research [that] helps to shape the discipline", "originality and insight". We are very lucky to have Lei advancing the fields of statistics and genetics in Canada, and look forward to her future successes.

Lei will present an overview of her work in a special session at this year’s SSC Annual Meeting at the University of Manitoba.

The citation for the award reads:

"To Lei Sun, for original and influential contributions to statistical methodology, statistical genetics, and human genetics, including important new developments in false discovery rate control and in robust methods for genetic association studies, and for her outstanding contributions to mentoring and training in statistical genetics in Canada."

Lei Sun is the nineteenth recipient of the CRM-SSC Prize.
For a complete list of the previous winners of this award, see.

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The CRM created and administers, either alone or jointly, four of the eight major national prizes in the mathematical sciences, namely:  the CRM–Fields–PIMS Prize,  the Prize for Theoretical Physics awarded in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), the Prize for young researchers in Statistics awarded jointly with the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC), and the CRM Aisenstadt Prize awarded to rising young Canadian stars, selected by CRM's Scientific Advisory Panel. The CRM has invested enormously in time, effort and in its own resources, to propel leading Canadian scientists into the spotlight, giving them international recognition when they most need it. 

CRM–Fields–PIMS Prize