Epidemiology Faculty Research

The Department of Epidemiology is one of the top research epidemiology departments in the country. The department’s many areas of emphasis focus on the prevention and treatment of chronic disease and contribute to the improved understanding of cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, and aging, as well as the relationship of lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise to genetic susceptibility. Our research programs extend a global reach to South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Faculty members in each of these areas offer major research and/or community service programs that provide excellent facilities for student research and field training.

  • Aging
  • Applied public health
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular and diabetes
  • Clinical trials and methods
  • Environmental
  • Global health
  • Infectious disease
  • Injury prevention
  • Molecular and genetic
  • Obesity and nutritional
  • Population neuroscience
  • Prevention, lifestyle, and physical activity
  • Psychiatric
  • Reproductive, perinatal, and pediatric
  • Social epidemiology and health equity
  • Women’s health

Aging Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Elsa S. Strotmeyer, PhD, MPH

Applied Public Health Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Catherine Haggerty, PhD, MPH

Cancer Epidemiology

Faculty Contacts: Jian-Min Yuan, MD, PhD

  • Research focus areas include: aging and cancer; cancer molecular epidemiology; environmental exposures and gene-environment interaction in risk of cancer development; cancer screening and early detection; natural occurring compounds for primary prevention of cancer.
  • An advanced course is offered in EPIDEM 2171 Cancer Epidemiology on topics of surveillance, etiology and prevention.
  • Training Grant: Translational Research Training in Cancer Etiology and Prevention.
  • Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program Seminar series at the UPMC Hillman Cancer, a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Jane A. CauleyHung LuuRobert E. Schoen (Medicine), Evelyn O. TalbottJian-Min Yuan, and Joseph M. Zmuda.

Cardiovascular & Diabetes Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Akira Sekikawa, MD, MPH, PhD

  • Cardiovascular areas of research broadly include: subclinical atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (arterial stiffness); cardiovascular aging and longevity; women’s health; nutrition and environment; vascular aging; lipid metabolism; body composition and obesity; physical activity; novel CVD risk factors, high risk and international populations; peripheral nerve function; and evaluation of interventions.
  • Diabetes areas of research include extensive programs in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. For type 1 diabetes, these include a 30-year follow-up study of childhood onset diabetes, Pittsburgh Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications Study, and the national DCCT/EDIC study also with over 25 years follow-up. For type 2 diabetes, the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study and the translation of the interventions to the community form the basis of much activity including a Diabetes Prevention Support Center.
  • Training Grant: Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology Training Program.  Designed to train individuals in cardiovascular epidemiology based on a pathophysiological understanding and experiential learning to thereby help develop in the future better prevention strategies. The Training Program is organized around three Research Cores: 1) subclinical atherosclerosis, 2) biostatistics/epidemiological methods and 3) cardiology, grounded in six areas of strength (i) vascular aging, (ii) women’s health, (iii) high risk & international populations, (iv) nutrition & environment, (v) physical activity and (vi) psychosocial factors. To address challenges and opportunities which epidemiological research faces, our Training Program is updated by introducing Big Data including but not limited to omics and electronic health data, mobile Health, and Cross-Cohort Collaboration components for which we have rich faculty expertise. This will position our trainees to be independent cardiovascular epidemiologists in multidisciplinary research setting competent in traditional and novel epidemiological methods in CVD.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Emma J. Barinas-MitchellMarnie BertoletMaria M. BrooksClareann H. BunkerLora Burke (Nursing), Janet Catov (Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences), Jane A. CauleyTina CostacouSamar El KhoudaryLinda Fried (Medicine), Tiffany L. Gary-Webb, Bethany Barone Gibbs (Health and Human Development), Andrea KriskaAllison L. KuipersLewis H. Kuller, Oscar L. Lopez (Neurology), Jared W. Magnani (Cardiology), Oscar Marroquin (Medicine), Karen A. Matthews (Psychiatry), Iva MiljkovicRachel G. MillerMatthew F. Muldoon (Cardiology), Suresh Mulukutla (Medicine), Anne B. NewmanTrevor J. OrchardSanjay R. Patel (Medicine), Bonny Rocket-Wagner, Bruce L. Rollman (Medicine), Akira SekikawaThomas J. SongerElsa S. StrotmeyerEvelyn O. Talbott, and Rebecca C. Thurston (Psychiatry).

Clinical Trials & Methods

Faculty Contact: Steven H. Belle, PhD, M.Sc.Hyg.

  • The activities of the Clinical Trials & Methods group contribute to all areas of emphasis, specializing in design and conduct of studies, including observational and interventional, and statistical methods.
  • The didactic component includes 6 courses (EPIDEM 2110 Principles of Epidemiology, EPIDEM 2180 Epidemiological Methods I, EPIDEM 2181 Design and Conduct of Clinical Trials, EPIDEM 2189 Epidemiological Methods of Longitudinal & Time-To-Event Analyses, EPIDEM 2191 Advanced Theory and Methods for the Analysis of Epidemiological Data, EPIDEM 2230 Secondary Data Analysis). Journal clubs have covered several topics including survey sampling, latent variable modeling, and causal inference.
  • The Epidemiology Data Center (EDC) was established in 1980 as a section of the Department of Epidemiology, founded and formerly directed by Katherine M. Detre, MD, DrPH, and now under the co-direction of Steven H. Belle, PhD, MScHygMaria M. Brooks, PhD; and Stephen R. Wisniewski, PhD. The EDC has collaborated in over 100 research studies and personnel currently contribute to, or coordinate, data management and analysis activities for 26 research projects sponsored by federal and various other governmental or private agencies and by industry. For more information, see the EDC website.
  • The EDC hosts the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Design, Biostatistics, and Epidemiology (DBE) Core providing data management and analysis support and consultation to researchers. Services include: grant application development and the pairing of researchers with statistical collaborators. It also hosts a Journal Club.
  • Faculty members in this Area of Emphasis include: Emma J. Barinas-MitchellBalasubramani K. GoundappaSteven H. BelleMarnie BertoletRobert M. BoudreauMaria Mori BrooksSamar El KhoudaryAnthony FabioSheryl KelseyWendy C. KingKristine M. RuppertRobert Schoen (Medicine), and Stephen R. Wisniewski.
  • Additional collaborators from the Department of Biostatistics include: Jong H. Jeong and Abdus S. Wahed.

Environmental Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Evelyn O. Talbott, Dr PH, MPH

  • Areas of research: This area of emphasis program has trained over 75 doctoral and graduate students in the area of environmental epidemiology with graduating students entering government, industry as well as very prestigious academic research centers.  Our focus is upon observational studies of the health effects in populations exposed to both personal and environmental risk factors, a majority concerned with exposure to air pollutants and other toxicants.  We continue to partner with the CDC environmental Public Health Tracking program as well as the ATSDR/CDC National ALS Registry, to conduct our studies which have included the association of air pollution and air toxics and chronic diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular disease as well as childhood lead poisoning in children living near a lead industry source.  The area of environmental epidemiology considers PM2.5 as well as air toxics modeled by the USEPA and associations with health effects including ALS, childhood autism, and asthma.   In addition to monitoring activities aimed at testing for exposure in the environment and field surveys of affected and non-affected individuals, geographic information system work using spatio-temporal models and mapping are encouraged.
  • Studies to date: We conducted a community based retrospective cohort study involving an Acute Myeloid Leukemia cluster related to an Underground Linking Gasoline Storage Tank in Hazelton, Pa (2011) linking benzene exposure in cracked basements to increased risk. (PubMed [journal] PMID: 21453914). This investigation led to proper mitigation efforts within the community t aided by both the USEPA and ATSDR. We assessed the temporal and spatial relationship of risk for AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) among community residents of an area in northeastern (NE) Pennsylvania (PA) affected by the Tranguch Gasoline Spill, which occurred in the early 1990s and calculated Standardized incidence ratios among 625 residents affected by the gasoline spill. Based on comparison to PA rates, the SIRs for total leukemia and AML were 7.69 (95% CI=1.58–22.46) and 11.54 (95% CI=2.38–33.69) for the 1995–2001 period, respectively. Prior to the spill, 1985–1989, and during the period of the spill, 1990–1994, no cases of leukemia were identified among the affected residents.
  • Use of Biomarkers: Companion to these classical types of observational studies going forward, the use of biomarkers exposure as well as markers of early biologic effects are critical if we are to move toward causal inference of a particular exposure and protect those most vulnerable in the population. Our work with NHANES and the CDC Tracking program permitted linkage of childhood blood lead (CBLL) levels and residence (X,Y)and  housing characteristics (dust) as well as proximity to TRI sites (eg lead smelters) and USEPA modeled air Pb levels. We demonstrated that age of housing, dust levels in the home and SES, (NHANES measured these), and proximity to a lead industrial source and air lead level had an effect on CBLL.  Most recently we have added measuring levels Persistent Organic Pesticides in serum of individuals with neurological disease (ALS) and a control group to determine if there is an association with previous exposure (CDC /NIEHS).
  • We are currently involved in a childhood cancer study considering the association of environmental exposures including Hydraulic (Natural Gas) Fracking and the risk of Childhood cancer in Southwestern PA. This study will investigate air and water toxics associated with fossil fuel extraction and risk of childhood health outcomes including low birth weight, asthma and childhood cancer.
  • All doctoral trainees conduct an independent study with the requirement to submit three manuscripts for publication. Hands-on training in the area of environmental epidemiology is offered with collaborations at both the local, state and national levels.  We offer many opportunities for field and lab experience at all of these levels.  Courses for this concentration include: Fate and Transport, Risk Communication, Environmental Epidemiology and Geospatial Analysis in Community Health Studies.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Drs.  Jennifer J. AdibiVincent Arena (Biostatistics), Jeanine Buchanich (Biostatistics), Jim Fabisiak (EOH), Ravi Sharma (Behavior and Community Health Sciences), Evelyn O. TalbottAda Youk (Biostatistics), and Jian-Min Yuan.
  • Additional collaborators from the Allegheny County Health Department include: LuAnn Brink, PhD, and Kristin Selker, MPH.  

Global Health Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Jean B. Nachega, MD, PhD, MPH

Infectious Disease Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Lee H. Harrison, MD

  • Areas of research include: epidemiology and genomic epidemiology of serious, vaccine-preventable, drug-resistant and hospital-associated bacterial infections; prevention of HIV infection; infectious diseases surveillance; computational modeling of disease and intervention strategies; hospital transmission of bacteria, SARS-CoV-2, and other respiratory viruses.
  • Training Grants: HIV research in MozambiquePublic Health Genomics In South Africa, T32: Pitt Training Program in Antimicrobial Resistance (includes doctoral and post-doctoral trainees from a variety of departments, including Department of Epidemiology).
  • All doctoral trainees conduct an independent study with the requirement to submit three manuscripts for publication. Trainees can choose traditional epidemiology or genomic epidemiology as the basis of their doctoral research.
  • Faculty members include: Steven H. BelleDonald S. BurkeCatherine L. HaggertyLee H. Harrison (Medicine), Jean B. Nachega, and Wilbert Van Panhuis.
  • Collaboration with the Allegheny Health Department: Kristen J. Mertz.

Injury Prevention Epidemiology

Faculty Contacts: Thomas J. Songer, PhD, MPHAnthony Fabio, PhD, MPH

  • Applied research in broad areas of unintentional and intentional injury including but not limited to injury from motor vehicle crash, falls, natural disasters, poisoning, head trauma, criminal violence, child maltreatment, domestic violence, and treatment of injury.
  • Emphasis on the application of epidemiologic methods in population and clinical settings to understand key risk and prognostic factors for primary and secondary prevention of injury.
  • Trainees participate in academic training in injury epidemiology and/or injury prevention and control and applied research training on specific injury and violence topics using mentors from multiple disciplines in the fields of epidemiology, statistics, trauma, behavioral sciences, surgery, psychiatry, criminology, and others.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Steven M. Albert (Behavioral and Community Health Sciences), Anthony FabioThomas J. SongerEvelyn O. Talbott, and Stephen R. Wisniewski.

Molecular & Genetic Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Joseph M. Zmuda, PhD

Obesity & Nutritional Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Lisa M. Bodnar, PhD, MPH, RD

Population Neuroscience

Faculty Contact: Caterina Rosano, MD, MPH

  • Focuses on the application of epidemiology methods, cutting-edge neuroimaging and state-of-the art neuropsychological assessment methodologies in population and clinical studies, with goal to advance etiological research and evaluation of specific therapies in the disorders of the central nervous system.
  • Targets the interdependent nature of clinical characterization, epidemiological methods, and multimodal assessment of disorders of the central nervous system through rigorous academic training and applied research opportunities.
  • Maximizes the potential for applied research training and for successful field placements of the trainees through multidisciplinary mentored work with leaders in the fields of epidemiology, psychiatry, neuroscience, neurology, and others. 
  • Training Grant: Population Neuroscience with a focus on aging related dementia: 3 pre-docs, 2 post-docs. Research grants of individual faculty support post- and pre-docs positions to work on a variety of topics, including traumatic brain injury and women’s health.
  • Faculty members with primary appointment in Epidemiology working in this area include: Jane A. CauleyCaterina RosanoAndrea L. Rosso, and Beth Shaaban.
  • Faculty members with secondary appointment in Epidemiology working in this area include: Janet Catov (Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences), Mary Ganguli (Psychiatry) and Rebecca Thurston (Psychiatry).
  • Close collaborators from other departments include: Ann D. Cohen (Psychiatry), Oscar L. Lopez (Neurology), and Beth E. Snitz (Neurology).
  • Collaborators from other departments include: Howard J. Aizenstein (Geriatric Psychiatry), Meryl Butters (Psychiatry), Lana Chahine (Neurology), Kirk Erickson (Psychology), Peter J. Gianaros (Psychology), Amy Wagner (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation), Andrea L. Weinstein (Psychiatry) and Zongqi Xia (Neurology).

For a full list of projects click here

Prevention, Lifestyle, & Physical Activity Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Bonny Rockette-Wagner, PhD

  • This Area of Emphasis involves training and research translating the proven benefits of lifestyle intervention on a broad range of health outcomes including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. This program encompasses the conceptual and practical foundation needed for such public health translation initiatives. Learning objectives include a thorough understanding of the epidemiological basis for disease prevention, as well as behavioral intervention theory, and lifestyle intervention training, along with a critical understanding of the methodological issues in designing and evaluating these efforts.
  • The faculty involved in this Area of Emphasis in the Department of Epidemiology are widely diverse in their focus, expertise and resulting funded research studies.  Under the umbrella of prevention, lifestyle intervention and movement, examples of the resulting recent studies developing from these diverse focus areas include the Diabetes Prevention Program and Translation Efforts; Aging, Cognition, and Hearing Evaluations in Elders; Psychosocial Issues and Bariatric Surgery; Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Change; Epidemiology of Diabetes Complications; Cognitive Decline, Brain Aging, Physical Environment & Mobility; Task Specific Timing and Coordination Exercises in Older Adults; the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN); and Lifestyle Intervention in Clinical Settings.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Lisa M. BodnarJennifer Brach (Physical Therapy), Lora Burke (Nursing), Tiffany L. Gary-WebbNancy W. GlynnMarquis HawkinsWendy C. KingAndrea M. KriskaKaren A. Matthews (Psychiatry), Kathleen McTigue (Medicine), Anne NewmanAndrea RossoTrevor J. OrchardBonny Rockette-Wagner, and Elizabeth M. Venditti (Psychiatry).

Psychiatric Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Natacha De Genna, PhD

  • The Psychiatric Epidemiology area of emphasis focuses on the acquisition of epidemiological, biostatistical, and psychiatric concepts and methods, and on their application to research in the field of psychiatric disorders including substance use and substance use disorders.
  • Training is accomplished through course work in epidemiology and biostatistics, and through courses in psychiatric epidemiology that were designed specifically for the area.
  • The training experience includes the opportunity to work on research projects with faculty mentors who are active researchers in psychiatry and epidemiology within the Graduate School of Public Health and the Department of Psychiatry within the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
  • Training Grant: Developmental Alcohol Research Training Program.
  • Courses: EPID 2310 Psychiatric Epidemiology, EPID 2400 Psychosocial Factors in Disease
  • David A. Brent (Psychiatry), Natacha De Genna (Psychiatry), Mary Amanda Dew (Psychiatry), Mary Ganguli (Psychiatry), Margaret C. McDonaldKenneth Perkins (Psychology) and Stephen R. Wisniewski.

Reproductive, Perinatal, & Pediatric Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Dara Mendez, PhD, MPH

  • Areas of research broadly include: fetal origins of disease; maternal and child health inequities; causes of pregnancy complications and adverse outcomes including spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, preterm birth, low birth weight, intrauterine growth restriction, and preeclampsia; obesity and nutrition among pregnant women; fertility and contraception; breastfeeding; sexually transmitted infections; and maternal substance use.  Major clinical sites for collaboration include UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Hospital, the obstetrics, gynecologic, and reproductive sciences specialty hospital associated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  Global health research experiences are available through a study of pregnancy being conducted in India.  Community-partnered research opportunities are available as part of The Pittsburgh Study, supported and coordinated through the University Pittsburgh Department of Pediatrics and broadly designed to determine interventions that help children thrive in Allegheny County.
  • The training program provides concentrated, tailored training on the patterns, risk factors, and interventions that might improve reproductive, perinatal, and pediatric health, as well as women's health across the lifespan. All trainees will participate in coursework, research field work, and professional development including courses in EPIDEM 2720 Reproductive Epidemiology, EPIDEM 2710 Epidemiology of Women's Health, and EPIDEM 2340 Pediatric Epidemiology; a Maternal and Child Health Equity Scholars group; independent research; grant writing; manuscript preparation; and scientific conference presentations.
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Jennifer J. AdibiLisa M. BodnarJanet Catov (Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences), Natacha De Genna (Psychiatry), Catherine L. HaggertyDara D. Mendez, James Roberts (Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences), and Evelyn O. Talbott.

Social Epidemiology and Health Equity

Faculty Contact: Anthony Fabio, PhD, MPH

Women's Health Epidemiology

Faculty Contact: Maria Brooks, PhD

  • Areas of research broadly include: women’s health across the lifespan, pregnancy, maternal and child health and adverse pregnancy outcomes and women at late life. Menopause and Aging focuses on furthering our understanding of chronological aging versus ovarian aging. Emphasis is placed on a broad range of topic areas including the musculoskeletal health, reproductive health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health, physical function and disability, body composition, and lifestyle.
  • Examples of specific research include the following:
    • Healthy weight and dietary intake as they affect maternal and child health;
    • Black women’s health across the life course and equitable approaches to centering women from marginalized populations;
    • Sleep, physical activity and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women during and after pregnancy;
    • Early pregnancy origins of exposure related risk to the long-term health of the child by studying the placenta as a relevant mediator of the effects of maternal exposure e.g. endocrine disrupting chemicals called phthalates and effects on fetal development;
    • Adverse pregnancy outcomes and the development of CVD outcomes in later life;
    • Mechanisms linking the menopausal transition, sex hormones, lipids, ectopic fat deposition, and subclinical measures of CVD;
    • Aging including the study of risk factors and sequelae of frailty, physical and cognitive disability;
    • Studies of key outcomes in older women including fractures, CVD, falls, cancer and mortality;
  • Key Studies/resources of Women’s Health AOE:
    • Study of Women’s health Across the Nation (SWAN);
    • Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (SOF);
    • The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI);
    • Magee Obstetric and Infant database (MOMI);
    • Medicare Linkage of our cohorts
  • Courses:
    • EPIDEM 2740 Reproductive Epidemiology
    • EPIDEM 2710 Epidemiology of Women’s Health
    • EPIDEM 2340 Pediatric Epidemiology
    • EPIDEM 2725 Reproductive Development from Model Organisms to Humans
  • Faculty members currently working in this area include: Emma J. Barinas-MitchellLisa M. BodnarMaria Mori BrooksJanet Catov (Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences), Jane A. CauleyAlicia ColvinNatacha De Genna (Psychiatry), Samar El KhoudaryCatherine L. HaggertyAndrea KriskaLewis H. KullerNina Markovic (Dental Medicine), Karen A. Matthews (Psychiatry), Dara D. Mendez, Kristine M. RuppertAkira SekikawaEvelyn O. Talbott, and Rebecca C. Thurston (Psychiatry).