DIMENSIONS Winter 2005

Meet Gerald van Belle

by Julie Cleveland

photo of Gerald van Belle

Dr. Gerald van Belle is director of the Biostatistics and Data Management Core of the UW ADRC. He has been at the UW since 1974, and has been on the Executive Committee of the ADRC since its beginning. He is currently a professor of biostatistics and environmental/occupational health sciences.

Dr. van Belle was born in Holland, and grew up in Canada. After receiving his Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from the University of Toronto, he immigrated to the United States. Here at the UW, he works with researchers in all phases of their studies: from the design of the study, data analysis, and database management to presenting the data in papers and conferences. What he enjoys most about his work is being able to apply statistics to help solve real world problems. He loves working with researchers in tackling global issues—not only Alzheimer's disease, but also sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), air pollution, drug evaluation and others.

According to Dr. van Belle, "answering questions such as whether or not a study can be done, how to make a study more efficient, how to best analyze the data, and what the data really say, are the kinds of things that excite me." His current research interest, however, is how to show cause-and-effect in research studies. For instance, in AD drug studies participants are given a drug, and then researchers come back later to be tested to evaluate whether their memory has improved. "If there is improvement," van Belle remarks, "the assumption is that the drug must have worked. But it could have been the additional attention received by the patient so that they're less depressed. So how do you show cause-effect? Introducing a control treatment is one answer. I think that showing cause-effect is a very important, and a basic, scientific issue." Currently he is writing a paper on the subject.

In addition to his work with the ADRC, he mentors graduate students with their research studies. Dr. van Belle has also written two resource books on statistics, "Statistical Rules of Thumb" and "Biostatistics," which have been well-received in the world of biological and health sciences research.

When not working, Gerald appreciates the opportunity to spend time with his family, including his six grandchildren. He is a voracious reader, and especially enjoys reading theology. He is an active member of his church, and serves on the board of an assisted living facility in Leavenworth, Wash. He states, "Actually, some people would say I've led a pretty dull life but I have and continue to enjoy it very much."

Dr. van Belle will be retiring from the University of Washington next year, but this does not mean that he will stop working. He will continue to serve on half a dozen national committees and write books on statistical analysis. He will also continue to help researchers work on real life problems.

Dr. van Belle is a highly regarded and integral member of the UW ADRC. Colleague Dr. Laura Gibbons remarks, "Gerald is the best kind of leader. He sets a stellar example as a scientist who is continually curious and doesn't hesitate to forge new ground. He encourages others to learn along with him, and his great sense of humor makes the collaboration all the more enjoyable."

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