Selection of Candidates
Mentorship and Oversight of Career Development
Activities of Awardees
Area of Research: Dr. Schilling is an isotope gemochemist at the forefront of developing stable metal isotopes as biomarkers to answer a wide array of of research questions, relevant for the diagnosis, prevention, and control of diseases and nutrient status. Her interdisciplinary approach brings techniques commonly used in Earth Sciences into solving new problems in Biomedical Sciences. For her work on Zinc stable isotopes as a potential diagnostic biomarker for pancreatic cancer she received the Young Investigator Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2019. When tumors grow, metabolic processes are slightly enhanced or suppressed and we can detect these from the enrichment of heavier or lighter isotopes in tissue, urine, and blood. That means, natural metal isotope ratios can tell us why concentration changes occur. She extended this work and studied malignancy-induced changes in metal isotopic composition in urine and tissues of patients with breast or prostate cancer. The specific isotope signatures support that there is a unique opportunity for a forward-looking vision of isotope metallomics in medical research and Environmental and Public Health Sciences. Dr. Schilling is the leader of the METAL Lab (previously the Trace Metals Lab) in the Environmental Health Sciences Department. During her time in the Career Development Program, Dr. Schilling aims to generate preliminary data for several of her studies to then apply for R01 level funding that will help establish isotope metallomics research at CUIMC.
Merlin Chowkwanyun, PhD, Donald H. Gemson Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociomedical Science
Area of Research: Dr. Chowkwanyun is a public health historian who focuses on community health movements. His recent book called All Health Politics is Local: Community Battles for Medical Care and Environmental Health examines on-the-ground controversies over medical care and environmental health in New York City, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Central Appalachia. He is also the Principal Investigator for Toxic Docs 1.0, a data infrastructure project funded by the National Science Foundation. Toxic Docs 1.0 is the world's largest database of once-secret documents on various toxic substances in the environment: lead, asbestos, dioxin, benzene, PCBs, polyvinyl chloride, and others. These documents have emerged from class-action litigations - much of it following the 1990s tobacco lawsuits that forced private firms to open up their vaults. The site uses novel techniques in cloud-computing and large-scale data storage to render massive dumps of documents - millions of pages- into something full-text searchable via a speedy online interface. Dr. Chowkwanyun hopes to expand Toxic Docs 1.0 and its community usage during his time in the Career Development Program.
Joan Casey, PhD, Assistant Professor in the MSPH, Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Area of Research: Dr. Casey’s research is mainly focused on understanding human health and sustainability challenges related to global environmental change, food and energy production, and the built environment. Each of these research areas links to climate change, likely the greatest public health threat of this (and future) generations. As society faces unprecedented changes in the global environment, a distinctly diﬀerent climate, landscape, and biotic proﬁle from the current world, adaptation must take place. Such adaptation will require expertise from a variety of areas. Dr. Casey’s research, e.g., work on the importance of social ties in climate migration and the role of wildﬁre-related air pollution and disaster exposure in health outcomes among older adults, ﬁts well with the objectives of the NIEHS Center. She is also interested in environmental justice issues, particularly how they relate to climate change. The Career award will help her establish collaborations with scientists thinking about interacting systems–natural, human, and social–as they relate to climate change. She plans to use the p30 funding to support pilot studies in some of these new areas of research, with the goal of applying for future R01 level funding.
Maya Deyssenroth, DrPH, Assistant Professor in the MSPH, Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Area of Research: Dr. Dessenroth’s research will utilize the resources of a number of ECHO cohorts housed within CUIMC and the greater New York area, including the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH), that are presenting novel opportunities to explore exposure-disease paradigms in a more comprehensive manner than previously possible. However, there are still a number of challenges that require further development of quality assurance and statistical methods to appropriately leverage these resources. As a member of the HHEAR Data Center, Dr. Deyssenroth and colleagues are developing a standardized workflow for exposomic data (i.e., untargeted metabolomics), across the national HHEAR laboratory hubs. Leveraging the expertise developed through HHEAR and additional CEHNM resources for exposure assessments, including the Trace Metals Laboratory, she is interested in pursuing multi-pollutant profiling reflective of underrepresented communities residing in urban environments across multiple ECHO-wide cohorts. She also plans to expand her research on the placenta as a relevant biospecimen for evaluating exposure-disease associations in early life, using the resources and expertise of the CCCEH. Among her many research interests, Dr. Deyssenroth would like to identify critical prenatal exposure windows of susceptibility. She hopes to use the Career award to carry out pilot studies that will provide the necessary foundation to develop a placental research program at CUIMC.
Tiffany Sanchez, PhD, Assistant Professor in the MSPH, Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Area of Research: As a trained environmental and molecular epidemiologist, the overarching goal of Dr. Sanchez’ research aims to advance the field of environmental lung disease beyond air pollution. She is currently pursuing two main research themes: (1) metals and chronic lung disease in general populations and (2) molecular signatures of environmental and metal-related lung disease. Her long-term goal is to extend the knowledge of and identify prevention interventions for environmentally-related chronic respiratory disease. Dr. Sanchez’ work not only includes the study of metals, but also spans other chemical mixtures, epigenomics, and metabolomics and their role in chronic lung disease. She collaborates on projects investigating secondhand tobacco smoke and lung function loss in the NHLBI Pooled Cohorts Study, on studies of lung disease epigenetics, and on a multi-omics project integrating the metallome and metabolomic signatures. While these other research projects aim to facilitate the communication of the importance of environmental factors in chronic lung disease, she is also particularly interested in investigating environmental factors associated with health disparities in chronic lung disease. Thus, a secondary objective would be to learn from and collaborate with other Center members who study health disparities and design interventions, with the goal of ultimately leading to interventions that would improve the health of individuals with these conditions.
Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir, MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology in CUIMC
Area of Research: Dr. Lovinsky-Desir’s research is mainly focused on understanding the effects of exercise in polluted environments on childhood asthma. As part of her Career development award, her goal is to cultivate skills to design interventions that will reduce harmful pollutant exposures during periods when children engage in physical activity. She is investigating the hypothesis that NYC public schools that are located in close proximity to highways and major roadways have higher prevalence of asthma compared to schools that are further away from sources of traffic related air pollution (TRAP). She plans to make use of her ongoing collaboration with the Columbia Built Environment and Health Research Group to use geographic information systems (GIS) technology to map locations of NYC public schools and proximity to TRAP sources. In addition, she hopes to access school based asthma data through collaborators in the NYC Department of Education. The goal of this research is to acquire pilot data that will be critical for a competitive R01 proposal to design a school based asthma intervention program that would reduce TRAP exposure during physical education and outdoor playtime for children at the highest risk for asthma.
Wan Yang, PhD, Assistant Professor in the MSPH, Department of Epidemiology
Area of Research: Dr. Yang wants to use the career development award to develop a model inference and forecast framework to study the impact of climate on influenza global transmission, by harnessing insights from laboratory studies, population disease surveillance, and infectious disease modeling, using cutting-edge mathematical and statistical methods. Based on her previous findings, she hypothesizes that climate conditions modulate influenza transmission, leading to differing epidemic timings in different regions of the world; the differing seasonality of influenza in turn allows viral reintroduction to subpopulations after local extinction and facilitates influenza’s persistence globally. She hopes to develop a climate-forced model to study influenza transmission in subtropical and tropical climates. In addition, she wants to couple these climate-forcing functions with the spatial network model-inference systems developed while working in Dr. Shaman’s Climate and Health Program. Dr. Yang plans to use the data generated by the career award to apply for an NIH or NSF R01 grant to expand her work to forecast influenza globally. These inference and forecast systems will improve the ability of researcher to combat future influenza epidemics and pandemics.
Brandon Pearson, PhD, Assistant Professor in the MSPH, Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Area of Research: Dr. Pearson’s research background spans many disciplines, including neuroscience, environmental health, epigenetics and toxicology. He is guided by a desire to understand the biology of behavior and the mechanisms of disease. He points out that while we know so much about health and disease, there is much to be learned about the causes of common pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The field of translational neuroscience is emerging from its genetic dogma and recognizing that the environment contributes to disease risk. Dr. Pearson hopes to apply resourceful cellular and animal models to test ecologically-relevant exposures and stressors that define perturbing agents, their interactions, and the critical windows of exposure that lead to brain pathology liabilities. This will improve the ability to translate those findings to testable predictions about individual human risk and set out to test effective avenues for therapy and prevention. Dr. Pearson will combine mouse model experiments with primary cell cultures and innovative “omics” readouts including transcriptomics and epigenomics, two known contributors in the mediation of pathological brain function. He also studies a short-lived vertebrate fish model, due to its short lifespan of about 4 months and its progressive aging and neurodegenerative features. He hopes to use the data generated from this work to apply for future grant funds to build his research program.