Dale Sandler, Ph.D.
Chief, Epidemiology Branch and Senior Investigator
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop A3-05Durham, N.C. 27709
Stephanie J. London, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Deputy Chief, Epidemiology Branch and Senior Investigator
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop A3-05Durham, N.C. 27709
The Epidemiology Branch addresses the mission of the NIEHS by carrying out basic and applied research on the effects of the environment on human health.
Epidemiology Branch investigators study 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, 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 and multi-investigator pooling projects and research consortia designed to study health effects of environmental exposures, gene-environment interactions and genome- and epigenome-wide associations, to 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 laboratory research. The Epidemiology Branch staff includes five tenured Senior Investigators, four Tenure-track Investigators, several Staff Scientists, and affiliated investigators, along with many predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows. The Epidemiology Branch is supported by administrative and scientific support staff. The Branch regularly hosts international visitors, guest researchers, summer students, and other short-term trainees.
The Epidemiology Branch comprises nine 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 population health. The Agricultural Health Study (in collaboration with the NCI, EPA, NIOSH) 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. 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 and lifestyle risk factors for cancer. This group’s current research focuses on evaluating the relationship between breast cancer and environmental exposures, including air pollution, metals and other chemicals, and identifying relevant underlying biologic mechanisms. The 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. Research in this group focuses on menstrual cycle function, conception, pregnancy loss, and early placental development. Additional research from this group develops novel methodological tools used for data collection and analysis. Research studies include prospective studies of time to pregnancy, a clinical trial of reproductive endocrinology, and international collaborations with fertility or birth cohorts.
- Genetics, Environment and Respiratory Disease Group - Led by Stephanie London, M.D., Dr. P.H., this group 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 and Genetic Epidemiology Group - Led by Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., this group 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.
- 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.
- Reproductive Epidemiology Group - Led by Allen Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D., this group 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.
- 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, cardiometabolic health, and wellbeing. Studies explore racial/ethnic differences in how physical and social features of neighborhood, housing, and work environments affect sleep health and cardiometabolic dysfunction. The group also seeks to identify biological mechanisms through which factors in the environment affect 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 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 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.