Molecular Epidemiology

What is the role of air pollutants in causing asthma? Which household pesticides increase a child’s risk of neurodevelopmental disorders? How do exposures to environmental toxins damage DNA in ways that set the stage for cancer? Answering questions like these is the realm of molecular epidemiology, a fast-growing field that evolved out of the integration of epidemiology and molecular biology.

The new Molecular Epidemiology Certificate, which draws on the School’s former Molecular Epidemiology track, teaches students this important discipline. Capitalizing on the ground-breaking work done by faculty in this area, the program introduces students to ongoing Mailman School studies being conducted at the local, state, national, and global level.

Graduates of the program are trained to be critical thinkers and are equipped with the tools needed to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of toxic exposures and the disease processes they can trigger. Whether in academia, the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, an environmental protection agency, health department, or public interest group, graduates will be prepared to assess the impact of toxic environmental exposures on the underlying molecular mechanisms of disease.

Admissions Eligibility

Molecular Epidemiology is open to Columbia MPH students in:

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Use biomarkers in determining exposure to environmental agents and risk related to those exposures; 
  2. Combine knowledge of molecular biology, biomarkers, and genetics in the design and conduct of epidemiological studies;
  3. Apply principles of molecular epidemiology to identify the underlying mechanisms of disease the associated epidemiology;
  4. Critically analyze data generated in molecular epidemiological studies;
  5. Plan and implement community-based molecular epidemiological studies and communicate results effectively to a variety of audiences.

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Biological Markers of Chemical Exposure

To evaluate the impact of environmental exposures on human disease, several pieces of information are needed. The specific chemicals to which people are exposed, the level of exposure and the toxicity of the chemicals must all be known. While some information on exposure can be obtained by measuring levels of the chemicals of interest in air, food, water, etc, the use of biomarkers can provide information much more relevant to understanding risk. This course will cover the types of biospecimens collected from humans, how they are processed and the types of assays that are carried out on them. A major focus of the course is exposure to genotoxic chemicals but other types of toxicities are also briefly covered. The goal is to understand the methodology, its appropriate use, how quantitative data is obtained and what are the limitations of the quantitative data. Biomarkers can also be used for early diagnosis of cancer, collecting information on the etiology of the disease, as intermediate endpoints in intervention studies and selection of optimal treatments. Students will lean how biomarkers are being incorporated into modern cancer research and treatment.

Molecular Epidemiology

Molecular epidemiology is an interdisciplinary research approach that incorporates advanced laboratory methods into epidemiology to identify causes of disease and facilitate intervention. It is increasingly utilized as a tool to understand interactions between external 'environmental' exposures and genetic and other susceptibility factors, and to identify 'at-risk' populations and individuals. This course will cover conceptual and methodological issues in molecular epidemiology including the application of biomarkers to the study of disease causation, risk assessment, and prevention. The course covers principles in the selection and validation of biomarkers, study design and statistical methods in data analysis including gene-environment interactions, biological sample collection, storage, and banking, and current laboratory methods for biomarker analysis. These principles will be illustrated using examples from current molecular epidemiologic research in cancer, neurodevelopment, childhood asthma, screening, risk assessment and disease prevention. Students will gain proficiency and experience in critically evaluating key papers in molecular epidemiologic studies.

Epidemiology II

As a basic science of public health, epidemiology is responsible for the identification of causes of disease that can guide the development of rational public health policies. The accuracy of the information provided by epidemiologic studies is therefore of central concern. Epidemiologic methods are the tools we use to make valid causal arguments. This course builds upon the methods introduced in P6400, Principles of Epidemiology. The primary objective is to provide students with the basic tools necessary to design, carry out, and interpret the results from observational epidemiologic studies.

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