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In memoriam: GSBS faculty member Kenneth R. Hess, PhD

August 12, 2019
Tracey Barnett

Kenneth R. Hess, PhD, faculty member of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, professor of Biostatistics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and alumnus of the UTHealth School of Public Health at Houston died on July 26. He was 59.

Hess joined MD Anderson as a faculty member in the department of Patient Studies in 1991, then moved to Biostatistics in 1994. In addition to his role as a statistician for numerous studies, he also served on many committees, notably as the chair of MD Anderson’s Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB), where he led the review of clinical trial protocols to ensure patient safety and data integrity.

He became a GSBS faculty member in 2000 and was affiliated with the Program in Quantitative Sciences.

He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rice University in 1982, and received his MS in 1986 and PhD in 1992 from School of Public Health at Houston in Biometry. 

Those who worked with Hess know how much of an impact he had on MD Anderson and biostatistical research.

“He was really good at his craft and was a dedicated statistician,” said David S. Hong, M.D., GSBS faculty member and professor of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics at MD Anderson. “But he was also a good friend and colleague who didn’t need the limelight. He just really desired to make the best contribution he could to cancer research.”

Nationally, Hess served as a member of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), a member of the Melanoma Expert Panel, a member of the AJCC Precision Medicine Core and chair of the AJCC Evidence-based Medicine and Statistics Core, in which he had an influential impact on the 8th edition of AJCC Cancer Staging. 

Hess was elected as Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 2017. 

“He made seminal contribution in hazard function estimation and model diagnostic for time-to-event data,” notes J. Jack Lee, Ph.D., GSBS faculty member and professor of Biostatistics. “He also provided exemplary leadership as a statistical ambassador to the biomedical research community.”

Biostatistics Chair and GSBS faculty member Kim-Anh Do, Ph.D., also recalls his influence on graduate students and trainees, both as a formal instructor at the GSBS and informal mentor to researchers outside of the quantitative sciences.

“His teaching philosophy for biostatistics included imparting the importance of understanding the subject matter and exploring as many different large data sets as possible. He focused on visualization, while developing an awareness and understanding of assumptions,” said Do. “His humble demeanor and witty sense of humor endeared him to all collaborators and colleagues.”

Information from this story was taken from an MD Anderson story.

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