Dale Sandler, Ph.D.
Chief, Epidemiology Branch and Senior Investigator
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop A3-05Durham, NC 27709
Stephanie J. London, M.D., Dr.P.H.
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop A3-05Durham, NC 27709
The Epidemiology Branch addresses the mission of NIEHS by carrying out research on the effects of the environment on human health. Our research covers a wide range of conditions with potential links to environmental exposures. Studies address health across the lifespan from pregnancy and child development to chronic diseases of aging.
Many Epidemiology Branch studies take advantage of biological and environmental samples to measure biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, or effect. Our research portfolio includes a mix of “big science” and more narrowly defined work. Large multi-purpose cohorts and multi-investigator pooling projects and research consortia address health effects of lifestyle and environmental exposures, gene-environment interactions and genome- and epigenome-wide associations. Our portfolio also includes laboratory-based observational and mechanistic studies. Cohorts developed and followed by the Branch facilitate multi-disciplinary studies of health effects of environmental exposures and foster collaborations both within NIEHS and with the extramural community.
The Epidemiology Branch, led by Branch Chief Dale P. Sandler, Ph.D., and Deputy Branch Chief Stephanie J. London, M.D., Dr.P.H., is part of the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research (DIR), which encompasses both basic and applied research. The Epidemiology Branch staff includes four tenured Senior Investigators, an Emeritus Scientist, four Tenure-track Investigators, several Staff Scientists, and affiliated investigators, along with many predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows. The Branch regularly hosts international visitors, guest researchers, summer students, and other short-term trainees.
The Epidemiology Branch comprises eight Principal Investigator-led research groups, and a research support team:
- Chronic Disease Epidemiology Group - Led by Dale Sandler, Ph.D., this group uses prospective cohorts to study the impact of environmental and lifestyle exposures on a range of health outcomes. The Agricultural Health Study (in collaboration with the NCI) 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 cancer and non-cancer outcomes. The GuLF STUDY was developed in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Interests of the group include breast cancer, kidney disease and metabolic conditions, autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, and respiratory health.
- Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group - Led by Alexandra White, Ph.D., this group aims to identify potentially modifiable environmental risk factors for cancer. Current research in this group focuses on evaluating the relationship between breast cancer and environmental exposures including air pollution, metals and other chemicals, and identifying relevant underlying biologic mechanisms. This group also uses advanced statistical methods to study how mixtures of chemicals work together and interact to influence cancer risk.
- Fertility and Reproductive Health Group - Led by Anne Marie Jukic, Ph.D., this group aims to identify environmental factors that influence fertility and early pregnancy health. Research in this group focuses on menstrual cycle function, conception, pregnancy loss, and early placental development. Our group explores the use of innovative digital tools such as menstrual cycle tracking apps, for reproductive health research. Research studies include prospective studies of time to pregnancy and early pregnancy loss, and a clinical trial of vitamin D and menstrual cycles (the inviteD trial).
- Genomics and the Environment in Respiratory and Allergic Health Group - Led by Stephanie London, M.D., Dr. P.H., this group focuses on the role of genetic, epigenetic, proteomic, metabolomic and environmental factors in relation to the development of respiratory and allergic illness across the life course. Datasets includes a large field study of respiratory function and disease in an agricultural setting and large-scale epigenetics and genomics projects, in the prenatal period and adult life, including international research consortia that meta-analyze data across many studies.
- Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group - Led by Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., this group carries out research to understand the interaction between genes and environmental exposures leading to cancer. Current studies focus on epigenetic modifications to DNA in relation to human exposure and cancer risk, including both laboratory-based studies and large epigenome-wide studies of breast and prostate cancers.
- Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group - Led by Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., M.P.H., this group conducts research on how maternal exposure to chemicals impacts pregnancy and the development of the fetus and child. The group also investigates biological mechanisms, such as inflammation, oxidative stress, and endocrine disruption, which may explain links between chemical exposures and adverse birth outcomes.
- Social and Environmental Determinants of Health Equity Group - Led by Chandra L. Jackson, Ph.D., M.S., this group investigates how physical and social environmental determinants impact racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in cardiometabolic health. Studies examine how physical and social features of neighborhood, housing, and work environments affect sleep health and subsequent cardiometabolic dysfunction among racially and ethnically diverse men and women. The group also seeks to illuminate social, behavioral, and biological pathways through which factors in the environment contribute to health disparities.
- Women’s Health Group - Led by Donna Baird, Ph.D., this group focuses on women’s reproductive health, especially understudied conditions. A primary interest is uterine fibroids, a hormonally dependent condition. Fibroids represent a high-morbidity condition for women, and a significant public health burden. It may have a significant environmental component, but little is known. The group also studies menstrual cycles, fertility, and pregnancy and aims to develop methods to advance the field.
- Scientific Program Support Team - Led by Paula Juras, Ph.D., these staff scientists, specialists, and administrators provide scientific and administrative support for management of the Epidemiology Branch research program.
Open positions and fellowships with the Epidemiology Branch are also available online, as are application instructions.
Software Developed by Epidemiology Branch Investigators
- ENmix — an R package for data preprocessing and quality control for Illumina HumanMethylation450 and MethylationEPIC BeadChip.
- Multi-Population Tag Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) Picker (mPopTag) — a tool to select or evaluate linkage disequilibrium (LD) tag SNPs.
- SNPinfo Web Server — an integrated tool for SNP selection using GWAS data and functional SNP prediction.
- Tagster — a tool to select, evaluate and visualize LD tag SNPs for single or multiple populations.