• Researcher Profile

    Marvin Zelen, PhD

    Marvin Zelen, PhD
    Lemuel Shattuck Rsearch Professor of Statistical Science, Harvard School of Public Health

    Office phone: 617-632-3013
    Fax: 617-632-2444
    Email: zelen@jimmy.harvard.edu

    Preferred contact method: email

    Research Department

    Biostatistics and Computational Biology

    Area of Research

    Theory and Practice of Statistical Science

    Office phone: 617-632-3013
    Fax: 617-632-2444
    Email: zelen@jimmy.harvard.edu

    Preferred contact method: email


    Dr. Zelen received his PhD from American University in 1957. He founded the Division of Biostatistical Science at DFCI in 1977 and served as chair until 1998. He also chaired the Department of Biostatistics from 1980 to 1990 at Harvard School of Public Health. Before coming to DFCI and Harvard in 1977, he held positions at the National Cancer Institute and the National Bureau of Standards.

    Recent Awards

    • Medal of Honor, American Cancer Society, 2009
    • Docteur Honoris Causa (Universite Victor Segalen, Bordeaux 2), 2003
    • Claire W. and Richard P. Morse Research Award, DFCI, 1996
    • Statistician of the Year, American Statistical Association (Boston Chapter), 1992
    • Elected Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991
    • Senior Fulbright Scholar, 1965


    Theory and Practice of Statistical Science

    Early Detection of Disease.
    In collaboration with Dr. Sandra Lee, we are currently focusing on the early detection of disease, which offers an opportunity to improve the survival and cure rate for many cancers. However, it is not clear how to implement public health programs for detecting disease early. Among the key issues are the age at which special programs should be implemented, the number of examinations an individual should undergo in a lifetime, the time between examinations, over diagnosis, and special recommendations for high-risk individuals. To help answer these questions, we developed special stochastic models that are applicable to all chronic diseases and applied them to the early diagnosis of breast cancer. We found that: (1) women in the 40- to 49-year age group do benefit from early detection, although the reduction in mortality is relatively small (5.3% over a lifetime); (2) 65% of the observed decline in breast cancer mortality may be attributed to early detection, with the remaining 35% due to improved therapy; (3) over diagnosis of breast cancer becomes a significant problem for women in their 70s; (4) any schedule for the early detection of breast cancer can be evaluated in terms of potential mortality reduction; and (5) methods that use the data available during the examination phases of a trial can forecast the mortality outcome of an early-detection clinical trial.

    Randomized multicenter clinical trials.
    In collaboration with Dr. Lu Zheng, we have developed new methods for the analysis of randomized multicenter clinical trials that condition on the ancillary statistics, which allows one to take into account institutional effects without adding additional parameters in the model. This conditioning has lead to increased statistical power for both fixed-sample size and sequential early stopping trials. Furthermore, the methods of analysis are distribution free and only depend on the randomization process when permuted blocks are used to design the trial. Current practice is to ignore institutional effects, especially when there are a large number of institutions. These new methods allow analyses to be guided instead by the design of the trial.

    Select Publications

    • Hu P, Zelen M. Planning of randomized early detection trials. Stat Methods Med Res 2004;13:491-506.
    • Davidov O, Zelen M. The theory of case control studies for early detection programs. Biostatistics 2003;4:411-21.
    • Davidov O, Zelen M. Overdiagnosis in early detection programs. Biostatistics 2004;5:603-13.
    • Lee S, Huang H, Zelen M. Early detection of disease and scheduling of screening examinations. Stat Methods Med Res 2004;13:443-56.
    • Zelen M. Forward and backward recurrence times and length biased sampling: age-specific models. Lifetime Data Anal 2004;10:325-34.


    • Stephenson, Patricia, DSc
    • Zheng, Lu, PhD