Using Molecular Epidemiology to Understand Chemical Threats to Early-life Children’s Health

February 6, 2018
2:00 pm US Eastern Time

This webinar is the sixth in our series, 20 Pioneers Under 40 in Environmental Public Health.

How our bodies, tissues, and cells respond to the diverse environmental signals that they receive throughout the life course may be critical to understanding the many complex links between environment and health. The growing field of epigenetic epidemiology seeks to understand whether epigenetic signals that relate to the regulation of transcriptional processes—the first steps in gene expression—are measurable and useful in making these links and understanding the determinants of health. Dr. Allan Just, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, discussed why DNA methylation may be a useful biomarker to reconstruct complex environmental exposures and link these to subsequent health outcomes. He also discussed the many challenges of measuring, analyzing, and interpreting this new type of big data for environmental studies.

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of persistent man-made chemicals that are commonly detected in the environment and human blood. There is increasing concern that early-life exposure to PFAS may adversely affect the developing fetus and child. Dr. Joseph Braun, Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, presented data on the health effects and sources of PFAS exposure from a prospective cohort study of pregnant women and their children in Cincinnati, Ohio (the HOME Study), including relations of PFAS with adiposity, breastfeeding, and epigenetics. The context of these findings was discussed in light of recent regulatory actions taken by federal and state agencies that are designed to limit human PFAS exposure from drinking water.

Featured Speakers

Allan JustAllan Just, PhD, is an environmental epidemiologist and serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. His research interests are in children’s environmental health, environmental epigenomics, computational methods for epigenomics, endocrine disrupting compounds, and air pollution and temperature modeling using satellite remote sensing data. He uses large datasets, computational tools, and the methods of molecular epidemiology to investigate links between environmental exposures and children's health.

Prior to joining Mount Sinai in New York City, Dr. Just worked as a research assistant at the Silent Spring Institute and conducted his doctoral research with the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. He also conducted postdoctoral training in environmental epigenetics and geospatial modeling at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health with Dr. Andrea Baccarelli. In addition to working on large methylation microarray, microRNA and bisulfite sequencing studies in relation to environmental exposures, he is an active member in the Prenatal And Childhood Epigenetics (PACE) consortium which seeks to advance the field of early life epigenetic epidemiology through collaboration and meta-analysis. He is also a co-instructor in the Epigenetics Bootcamp at Columbia University.


Joe BraunJoseph Braun, PhD, MSPH, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health. He was formerly a school nurse in Milwaukee, WI before receiving his master's and doctoral degrees in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Braun is interested in studying the patterns, determinants, and health consequences of early life environmental chemical exposures in pregnant women, infants, and children.  He has a special interest in studying obesity and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism. He is also interested in identifying modifiable sources of environmental chemical exposures in pregnant women and children. Dr. Braun works with studies of pregnant women and children from the United States, Canada, and Mexico.



This webinar was moderated by Sarah Howard, MS, Founder and Manager, DiabetesandEnvironment.org. It lasted for 60 minutes and be recorded for our call and webinar archive.