The Statistician

Sophie Barthel works with numbers to design better ways of testing new treatments.

I am a statistician. I try to find better designs for our clinical trials so that treatments get to patients more quickly and efficiently.

Clinical trials show the benefits and risks of healthcare interventions – such as medicines, surgery or radiotherapy – by comparing them with the standard treatments currently in use or with a dummy drug or ‘placebo’. The treatments are given to patients and healthy people, and the researchers observe and record any differences in their effects over time. The results are based on statistics.

‘We want to create specific treatments that take account of genes.’

I work in an office in a university, spending most of my time at the computer, running an analysis of a trial or programming schedules that other statisticians can use. The rest of my time is taken up by meetings and writing publications. I see statisticians and clinicians every day. I have a regular email exchange with other colleagues around the world.

On a good day, I have interesting meetings and also enough time to work properly on publications. I am happy with my results if they help to design better trials and hence bring results and clinical improvements more quickly. I tend to know whether my results are feasible through discussions with colleagues and the willingness of clinicians to use them for their studies.

A bad day is one where none of my programmes work, or I have so many short meetings so that I can’t use the rest of the time effectively.

Another project I am involved in is working out how to use patients’ genetic information to ‘personalise’ a treatment. In other words, we want to create specific treatments that take account of genes – different for each person. This could be the drug treatment of the future.

Sophie Barthel, methodology statistician, MRC Clinical Trials Unit, London

To contact Sophie, or any of the other scientists featured here, please email

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