The Epidemiology Branch addresses the mission of the NIEHS by applying and extending the tools of epidemiology to study the effects of the environment on human health.
Epidemiology Branch investigators study a wide range of health effects with potential links to environmental exposures. Studies cover outcomes across the lifespan from pregnancy and child development to chronic diseases of aging, and focus on known and potential environmental hazards.
Epidemiology Branch studies often include the collection of biological and environmental samples to measure biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, or effect. Our research portfolio includes a mix “big science” and more narrowly-defined work, ranging from large multi-purpose cohorts designed specifically to study gene-environment interactions and genome- and epigenome-wide association studies to laboratory-based mechanistic studies. The cohorts developed or sponsored by the Branch facilitate multi-disciplinary studies of health effects of environmental exposure and foster collaborations both within NIEHS and with the extramural community.
The Epidemiology Branch, led by Branch Chief Dale P. Sandler, Ph.D., is part of the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research (DIR), which encompasses both basic and applied laboratory research. This setting provides rich opportunities for collaboration with lab scientists and access to the tools and insights of basic biology.
The Epidemiology Branch staff of over 30 personnel includes seven permanent tenured researchers, as well as tenure-track investigators, staff scientists, visiting fellows, and predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows. The Epidemiology Branch office includes support staff and project officers for multi-user Branch contracts.
The Epidemiology Branch has eight research groups:
- Aging & Neuroepidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Honglei Chen, carries out studies designed to identify environmental and genetic causes of Parkinson’s disease and to characterize populations at potentially higher risk of Parkinson’s disease that can be the focus of future etiologic and prevention work. The latter involves studies of Parkinson’s pre-motor symptoms and other early signs of neurologic dysfunction.
- Biomarker-based Epidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Matthew Longnecker, focuses on health effects of exposure to environmental contaminants, including studies of effects of background levels exposures that occur in the general population and studies in populations with exposures that exceed those in the U.S. Research questions include potential reproductive and developmental effects of exposures such as DDT, PCBs, Perfluoroalkyl compounds, Bisphenol A, and nonpersistent pesticides.
- Chronic Disease Epidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Dale Sandler, uses prospective cohorts to study the impact of environmental and lifestyle exposures on population health. The Agricultural Health Study (in collaboration with the NCI and EPA) focuses on cancer and non-cancer health risks associated with pesticides and other agricultural exposures. The Sister Study focuses on environmental and genetic contributors to breast cancer and other outcomes. The GuLF STUDY was developed in response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Other studies investigate genetic and environmental risk factors for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autoimmune diseases, and chronic kidney disease.
- Genetics, Environment & Respiratory Disease Group - This group, led by Dr. Stephanie London, focuses on the role of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors in relation to the development of respiratory illness across the life course. Work includes a large field study of respiratory function and disease in an agricultural setting and large scale epigenetics and genomics projects, including international research consortia that pool data across multiple cohorts or case-control studies.
- Molecular & Genetic Epidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Jack Taylor, carries out research directed towards understanding the interaction between genes and environmental exposures in human carcinogenesis. Current studies focus on epigenetic modifications in relation to human exposure and cancer susceptibility, including both laboratory-based studies and large epigenome-wide association studies of breast and prostate cancers.
- Pediatric Epidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Walter Rogan, studies the effects of exogenous chemicals on the growth and development of children. Work includes the development or validation of methods to study such effects and addresses treatment and policy implications for pediatric health care. The group’s current major effort is a study of potential developmental effects of the plant estrogens in soy infant formula.
- Reproductive Epidemiology Group - This group, led by Dr. Allen Wilcox, focuses on the time period from conception to birth and its potential disruption by environmental factors. Work includes applied studies directed towards discovering how specific environmental factors might affect reproduction and development as well as more basic and theoretical work to address questions related to underlying biological mechanisms and the development of analytic methods that can pave the way for improved etiologic studies. Specific conditions investigated, in addition to early events of reproduction, include cleft lip and palate and cerebral palsy.
- Women’s Health - This group, led by Dr. Donna Baird, focuses on women’s reproductive health, especially understudied conditions. A primary interest is uterine fibroids, a hormonally dependent condition that serves as a model for studying windows of susceptibility and mechanisms of hormonal action. Fibroids represent a major public health problem that may have a significant environmental component. The group also studies fertility and pregnancy and focuses on the development of methods to advance the field.
Scientific Support Staff
Paula Scarborough Juras, Ph.D.
Tel (919) 541-3478
Fax (919) 541-2511
N. Beth Ragan
Tel (919) 541-2767
Fax (919) 541-2511
Program Support Specialist
Tel (919) 541-7703
Tel (919) 541-3445
Open positions and fellowships with the Epidemiology Branch are also available online, as are application instructions.