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Mari Palta, PhD Retires

Mari Palta, PhD retired on November 2, 2018 from her positions as Professor of Population Health Sciences and Biostatistics and Medical Informatics and Director of Graduate Programs in the Department of Population Health Sciences. Mari joined UW-Madison and the then Department of Preventive Medicine in 1982, after postdoctoral training in epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and a faculty position at the University of Iowa.

Mari has been instrumental in the development and success of the graduate programs in Population Health Sciences. She has developed and taught several biostatistics course for these programs, including a third semester course, emphasizing longitudinal data (now PHS651) for which she wrote a book published by Wiley in 2003. She is working on expanding the material into new book, which has been accepted for publication by Wiley. For the last two years prior to retirement, Mari served as the Director for the graduate programs in Population Health and Epidemiology, guiding these into an era of increased requirements for reporting and transparency.

During her time at UW-Madison, Mari has mentored or co-mentored over 40 PhD and MS students on statistical methods, epidemiology and population health. Several of these students are now research leaders at the UW School of Public Health.

Mari has also been instrumental in bringing large impactful population- based research projects to UW-Madison. These have not only supported research directly, but also built infrastructure and foundation for continuing research by other School of Medicine and Public Health faculty. Mari played a central role in obtaining initial funding for the ground-breaking Cystic Fibrosis (CF) newborn screening randomized clinical trial in the Department of Pediatrics that put Wisconsin on the map in Cystic Fibrosis research.

Mari was the PI of the Newborn Lung Project, funded by the NHLBI. This study was and continues to be unique in the US as having assembled the only geographically based cohorts of very low birthweight births with unparalleled accumulating data across the life course. The project provided crucial information on diagnostic criteria, and respiratory and school outcomes. The now adults and adolescent in the two cohorts have become a unique resource for studying long term cardiopulmonary outcomes by Pediatrics faculty collaborating with Mari.

The Wisconsin Diabetes Registry Study, also started in 1987, recruited all incident cases of Type 1 diabetes across a region in southern Wisconsin generated novel findings on the evolution of glycemic control and acute and chronic outcomes of Type 1 diabetes. Mari as PI secured funding for a 20 -year follow-up 2007-2013, which identified a decreasing trend in complications and mapped trends in biomarkers. Most recently, collaborations have led to several funded grants to utilize the cohort with its data bank and biorepository across UW-Madison investigators interested in diabetes research.

A third groundbreaking cohort study, the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, was established in 1988 with Mari as the senior biostatistician. The study was the first to provide estimates of the prevalence of sleep disordered breathing in a population sample and published one of the most cited papers ever in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study continues to assess associations between health outcomes and sleep. Other major contributions by Mari to population health research were by a multimillion study on health- related quality of life instruments, where she served as the PI of the Biostatistics Core. Mari was also a leader in the original conceptualization and design of the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) which has become a cornerstone for health research at UW-Madison.

Through her methodological and applied biostatistical research Mari has become known as an expert on statistical methods for longitudinal studies. Her methodology work has been funded by NCI and by the above grants. In 2003 Mari was elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association based on her innovative research and contributions to the profession.

Mari has served on countless UW committees, among them GFEC, the Biological Division tenure committee, the Biological Division Curriculum Committee, diversity and equity committees for UW-Madison and SMPH, the Survey Center Steering Committee and the Faculty Senate. She has also been very active in national service, including as a member of numerous NIH study sections, President of the Caucus for Women in Statistics and Chair of the American Statistical Association Committee of Women in Statistics.