Director Durland Fish, Ph.D.
Professor of Epidemiology
Dept. of Epidemiology and Public Health
Yale School of Medicine
60 College St. P.O. Box 208034
New Haven, CT 06520

OVERVIEW | INTRODUCTION | GOAL | ACTIVITIES | 
PLANNED ACTIVITIES FOR 2005-2006
 | CENTER PARTICIPANTS

OVERVIEW

Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS) serves as a principal focus for Yale University's research and training efforts in the environmental sciences and forms intellectual centers for research and education that address fundamental questions that will form the ability to generate solutions to the biosphere's most critical environmental problems. Health issues are among the most relevant environmental problems of today, and include both human health and ecosystem health. Solutions to these problems are complicated by a significant intellectual gap which exists between the medical discipline of epidemiology and the environmental discipline of ecology. Medical epidemiology lacks a comprehensive understanding of natural environmental processes that influence disease agents, and environmental science lacks the sound methodology and advanced technology of contemporary epidemiological investigation. The goal of the YIBS Center for EcoEpidemiology (YIBSCEE) is to merge the boundaries Residential Riskbetween the medical and environmental sciences, and in so doing, create opportunities at Yale for research and training in the epidemiology of agents affecting both human health and the natural environment.

The center's goal is achieved through an interdisciplinary effort among participating Yale faculty. YIBSCEE faculty includes representatives from three schools (School of Medicine, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), three Departments (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Epidemiology and Public Health, and Internal Medicine), and three Divisions within the Dept. of Epidemiology and Public Health (Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Environmental Health, and Biostatistics).

Activities of YIBSCEE include symposia and seminar series on a wide range of contemporary topics relating to environment and health which are open to the Yale community. These activities will form the basis for the creation of new interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate courses. YIBSCEE will also coordinate existing curricula among participating faculty to broaden scope and improve content. In addition, the center will provide a forum and resources for planning and acquisition of extramural funding for interdisciplinary training and research in eco-epidemiology at Yale.

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INTRODUCTION

BorreliaHuman society is continuously threatened by chemical, physical and biological agents emanating from both the natural and man made environment that directly affect survival, health, and quality of life. Effective mitigation of these threats requires basic knowledge from a wide range of disciplines within the general area of environmental science. Because of its roots in the human medical sciences, the science of epidemiology focuses only on the human health outcomes associated with exposures to environmental stressors and agents. Epidemiology does not typically draw upon disciplines in the natural environmental sciences to consider the role of natural ecosystems as sources of human exposure to hazardous agents. Solutions for many of today's epidemiological problems require knowledge from several disciplines which are outside the mainstream of classic research and training in traditional medical schools and schools of public health. There is an urgent need for an interdisciplinary approach that will strengthen our intellectual capacity to address the environmental processes through which harmful agents threaten human existence and welfare. Likewise, there is also a need to assess the impact of such agents on the ecosystem, both directly, and indirectly through results of mitigation against human threats. The YIBS Center for EcoEpidemiology fulfills these needs by providing an opportunity for faculty and students to participate in a cross-disciplinary effort between the medical and natural environmental sciences. Yale provides an unusual academic environment for this center as few academic institutions in the U.S. have expertise in both disciplines on the same campus.

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GOAL

The major goal of YIBSCEE is to serve as a platform for the integration of epidemiology and environmental science at Yale. The Center will enhance opportunities for intellectual exchange and program development by providing a forum and resources for faculty and student interaction that will result in increased interdisciplinary participation and visibility. The ultimate goal of the center is to merge the boundaries between the medical and environmental sciences which will enhance research and training in the epidemiology of agents affecting both human health and the natural environment.

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ACTIVITIES

Dominic AbromeiladsThere are a wide range of critical environmental questions and issues that are relevant to the goals of the proposed center. YIBSCEE focuses upon issues that are truly interdisciplinary and not currently addressed in existing research or training programs at Yale. Center activities build upon and expand existing independent efforts among faculty to interact effectively and form a cohesive group with common intellectual pursuits. These activities include the coordination of existing course instruction and training opportunities, the sponsorship of YIBCSEE symposia and seminars, and the development of new courses.

Several activities that have been independently initiated by participating center faculty serve as examples of an interdisciplinary curriculum in eco-epidemiology. The success of these activities will be greatly enhanced through increased dialogue with participating faculty and financial support for new activities from YIBS.

Courses

Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Agents (EEB720a/EMD544a) provides an interdisciplinary view of infections diseases. It is taught by Paul Turner (EEB) with guest lectures by D. Fish of EPH. This course was hugely successful its premier year with more than 70 students (mostly undergraduate) enrolled. Prompted by student demand, this course was followed by a readings class of the same title as Turner is on sabbatical this year.

Observing the Earth From Space (FES 506b, EMD 548b, GG362b) is a remote sensing course offered spring of each year by the Geology Department and is designed to teach students how to use satellite imagery for environmental applications. The course is attended by 1-3 EPH students each year and a lecture is given on remote sensing applications in epidemiology.

GIS Applications in Epidemiology and Public Health (BIS511a) is offered each fall semester by the Biostatistics Division of EPH and is taught by T. Holford. The course has attracted students from FES and Yale College and is designed to teach students how to collect and analyze spatial data on the environment and disease cases. This course, together with the remote sensing course, provides a valuable training sequence for health applications of environmental data that is not offered at any other academic medical institution.

Public Health Management of Disasters (EHS 570a). This new course offered by the Environmental Health Division of EPH teaches public health responses to major natural disease outbreaks and bioterrorism events. The course includes several seminars by guest lecturers, which are open to the Yale community.

Joint Training Programs

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FES/EPH Joint Masters Degree Program

The M.F.-M.P.H.,M.F.S.-M.P.H. and M.E.S.-M.P.H. are degrees for students who are interested in understanding the environmental context of public health. These programs allow students flexibility in designing their curriculum, although students must satisfy minimum residency requirements and minimum credit hours in both schools. This program is a three-year effort and is unique among US institutions offering degrees in public health.

Internships and laboratory rotations

Summer internships have been taken by a number of FES (master degree) and EEB (undergraduate) students in EPH, and one EEB Ph.D. student has recently completed a laboratory rotation in EPH. This type of exchange has provided valuable interdisciplinary experience for students with training in ecology and environmental science by exposing them to contemporary epidemiological research methods.

CDC Fellowship Training Program in Vector-Borne Diseases

The Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases (EMD) in EPH has a 5 year training grant from CDC, specifically for training in vector-borne diseases with an emphasis on field studies. A total of 20 faculty participate in this training grant, including 2 from FES and 3 from EEB. The grant currently supports seven Ph.D. students which are shared among EPH (5), FES (1), and EEB (1). Students conduct laboratory rotations and select dissertation committee advisors freely among EPH, FES, and EEB faculty. Students participate in a field trip to the Caribbean over spring break. [visit website]

Seminar Series

The Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Dept of Epidemiology and Public Health have jointly hosted 3 seminars in Disease Ecology during the past few semesters. Guest speakers have included Klaus Kurtenbach of the Biodiversity Program at Imperial College, London and Tom Scott, Director of the Center for Vector-Borne Diseases at U.C. Davis, and Sarah Randolph, Dept. of Zoology, Oxford University.

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PLANNED ACTIVITIES FOR 2005-2006

Seminars and Symposia

A seminar series following a general theme of “Agents of Disease: Environmental Causes and Consequences” is being planned for Fall 2005. The following preliminary topics are being
considered:

  • The impact of global warming on the risk of infectious diseases for humans
  • The role of biodiversity in the maintenance of zoonotic agents of disease
  • Potential bioterrorism threats to the environment
  • Environmental change and the emergence of new infectious diseases
  • The role of wildlife as sentinels for environmental hazards and infectious agents
  • Biological reserves and ecological restoration as sources of emerging diseases
  • Infectious diseases risk considerations in environmental impact assessment
  • The role of global warming on risk of cancer in humans
  • Human and environmental impact of increased use of coal for power generation
  • Health effects of pollutants from diesel and fossil fuel use for transportation
  • Global restrictions on insecticides used for public health
  • Application of ecological disease modeling to the study of environmental health problems
  • Remote sensing technology for environmental health tracking activities
  • Application of techniques from human environmental health epidemiology to ecological problems

Courses

YIBSCEE will provide opportunities for the development of an interdisciplinary curriculum in eco-epidemiology by coordinating efforts for new course development and by functioning as a clearing house that will inform instructors of duplication and needs. The Center encourages an interdisciplinary approach to existing epidemiology and environmental courses containing lectures on disease and the environment. A university-wide list of courses, symposia, seminars, and journal clubs will be maintained by the center and made available on line to inform faculty and students of the available educational resources at Yale relevant to eco-epidemiology.

The development of a new course or courses is a project of the center planned for the third year which would benefit from the experience and feedback on the seminars and symposia scheduled during the first two years. It is anticipated, for example, that a symposium on air quality and energy consumption, being considered for the second year of the center, will develop into a formal course that would be offered in the third year of the center. The symposia and course would be developed by EPH and F&ES center members. Similarly, a formal course in eco-epidemiology also would be a likely outcome from these activities.

The overall goal is to develop a unique interdisciplinary curriculum among the participating schools and departments. Such a curriculum will provide training opportunities for students with interests in ecology and epidemiology that cannot be obtained at any other US academic institution. It will also encourage students with interests in ecology or epidemiology to explore applications and opportunities in other disciplines.

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CENTER PARTICIPANTS

The following faculty from Dept. of Epidemiology and Public Health (EPH), School of Medicine, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) and Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) participate in YIBSCEE (listed alphabetically). This list is not final as efforts are being made to recruit additional faculty into the center for a balanced representation of the academic talent at Yale with interests in common with the goals of the center.

Durland Fish, Ph.D., Professor of Epidemiology, EPH

Professor Fish's research interests are in the areas of ecology and prevention of vector-borne infectious diseases. Recent emphasis has been on tick-borne pathogens causing Lyme disease and human ehrlichiosis and mosquito-borne West Nile virus. Current projects include natural and artificial regulation of vector populations, vector competence for viral and bacterial pathogens, co-infection and transmissions of multiple pathogens, geographic and spatial analysis of epidemiological data, and the use of satellite imagery to predict vector-borne disease risk.

Alison Galvani, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, EPH

Dr. Galvani is interested in integrating evolutionary ecology and epidemiology in order to generate predictions that could not be made by either discipline alone. This interdisciplinary approach has widespread potential for answering evolutionary questions, explaining empirical observations and informing public health policy. Professor Galvani has applied this approach to the study of HIV, influenza, SARS and helminth parasites.

Theodore Holford, Ph.D., Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Public Health, Head, Division of Biostatistics, EPH

Professor Holford's primary research interests are in the development and application of statistical methods in public health and medicine. One topic he has especially focused on recently has been how trends in cancer epidemiology are described, especially through the use of age-period-cohort models and geographic information systems.

Brian Leaderer, Ph.D., The Susan Dwight Bliss Professor, Vice Chair, Dept of Epidemiology and Public Health and Deputy Dean of Public Health

Professor Leaderer's research interests are in the area of assessing exposures to air contaminants and assessing the health impact resulting from those exposures in both controlled human and epidemiological studies. Within the context of assessing exposures, his work includes developing a theoretical framework for doing exposure assessment, determining the type and quantity of health related contaminants emitted from sources, assessing environmental concentrations and the factors impacting those concentrations, developing monitoring and modeling techniques and formulating strategies to assess exposures in epidemiologic studies.

Peter Rabinowitz, M.D., M.P.H. Assistant Professor of Medicine.

Dr. Rabinowitz is in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Dept. of Internal Medicine. He has interests in exploring the use of sentinel animals for detecting and evaluating human health hazards in the environment and in developing innovative strategies for the investigation of sentinel events in wildlife populations. He has already developed a protocol and a proposal for developing an independent Yale center for these studies.

David Skelly, Ph.D., Professor of Ecology, FES

Professor Skelly is interested in the ecology of disease. His research is focused on understanding the ways in which environmental context influence transmission of disease and the impacts of infection. He is also researching the role of adaptive host behavior in regulating patterns of infection and is involved in research to understand the role of pathogens in amphibian deformities.

Stephen Stearns, Ph.D., Edward P. Bass Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Chair, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Professor Stearns is interested in Darwinian medicine and in the life history consequences of infections and disease. He has published a book on “Evolution in health and Disease” and is founding editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

Paul Turner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolution, EEB

Dr. Turner uses microorganisms (RNA viruses, DNA viruses,bacteria) as model systems to address hypotheses in ecological and evolutionary theory, especially questions regarding the evolution of genetic exchange (sex), virus ecology and evolution, host-parasite interactions, and the evolution of infectious disease. He uses an inter-disciplinary approach to investigate these processes, employing techniques from microbiology, population genetics, molecular biology and mathematical modeling.

John Wargo, Ph.D. Professor of Environmental Risk Analysis and Policy, Director of the Environment and Health Initiative, FES

Professor Wargo's current research explores spatial, temporal, and demographic distribution of environmental health risks, providing a basis for evaluating past environmental and natural resource management policies, and for suggesting legal reform. He has conducted extensive research on childhood exposure to complex mixtures of toxic substances, especially pesticides.

Tongzhang Zheng, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, EPH

Dr. Zheng’s research interests have been in the area of cancer epidemiology and environmental epidemiology. He is the Principal Investigator for a case-control study of female breast cancer in Connecticut, USA, which investigates the association between environmental exposure to organochlorine compounds, genetic polymorphisms and breast cancer risk.

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