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Title: Inferential stability in systems biology
Author: Kirk, Paul
ISNI:       0000 0004 2699 770X
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2011
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The modern biological sciences are fraught with statistical difficulties. Biomolecular stochasticity, experimental noise, and the “large p, small n” problem all contribute to the challenge of data analysis. Nevertheless, we routinely seek to draw robust, meaningful conclusions from observations. In this thesis, we explore methods for assessing the effects of data variability upon downstream inference, in an attempt to quantify and promote the stability of the inferences we make. We start with a review of existing methods for addressing this problem, focusing upon the bootstrap and similar methods. The key requirement for all such approaches is a statistical model that approximates the data generating process. We move on to consider biomarker discovery problems. We present a novel algorithm for proposing putative biomarkers on the strength of both their predictive ability and the stability with which they are selected. In a simulation study, we find our approach to perform favourably in comparison to strategies that select on the basis of predictive performance alone. We then consider the real problem of identifying protein peak biomarkers for HAM/TSP, an inflammatory condition of the central nervous system caused by HTLV-1 infection. We apply our algorithm to a set of SELDI mass spectral data, and identify a number of putative biomarkers. Additional experimental work, together with known results from the literature, provides corroborating evidence for the validity of these putative biomarkers. Having focused on static observations, we then make the natural progression to time course data sets. We propose a (Bayesian) bootstrap approach for such data, and then apply our method in the context of gene network inference and the estimation of parameters in ordinary differential equation models. We find that the inferred gene networks are relatively unstable, and demonstrate the importance of finding distributions of ODE parameter estimates, rather than single point estimates.
Supervisor: Stumpf, Michael ; Richardson, Sylvia Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral