Epidemiology Research

Epidemiology provides principles and methods that can be used to investigate almost any aspect of health or disease in human populations, from discovering a new cause of cancer to evaluating the effectiveness of a public health program. Epidemiologic research is inherently multidisciplinary and collaborative, often involving experts from diverse fields such as medicine, biostatistics, exposure assessment, genetics or social science, as well as epidemiologists.

Faculty and students in the Department of Epidemiology engage in a wide range of research projects in Nebraska and around the world. A sample of our current projects is shown below to illustrate the breadth of research in the department.

Arsenic in drinking water and diabetes.

Arsenic is classified as a human carcinogen, but its role in the development of other chronic diseases is controversial. In a study being conducted in an area of northern Mexico with high levels of arsenic in the environment, Dr. Dana Loomis from the Department of Epidemiology and collaborators at other US and Mexican universities have shown that the prevalence of diabetes increases with the level of arsenic in drinking water. The results suggest the risk of diabetes is associated most strongly with current, rather than chronic, exposure, so that interventions to reduce exposure could reduce the burden of disease. Findings of the study have been presented at the 2010 and 2011 meetings of the Society of Toxicology.

Randomized trial of an Intervention to reduce environmental tobacco smoke exposure.

Environmental tobacco smoke is a risk factor for poor pregnancy outcomes and may be a source of health disparities. A team lead by Dr. Ayman El-Mohandes recently concluded the first randomized trial to show the efficacy of a behavioral intervention targeting environmental tobacco smoke exposure in pregnancy. Women in the intervention group had reduced exposure to smoke and improved rate of very preterm and very low weight births. Results of the study appear in the journal Pediatrics.

Cancer-Related Disparities in Northern Plains American Indian Communities.

About 80% of cancers are attributable to environmental and lifestyle factors and American Indians have disproportionate risk for some of those diseases. Dr. Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway and collaborators with the Northern Plains Tribal Data Initiative analyzed data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to evaluate behaviors associated with cancer risk factors and screening among American Indians in the Northern Plains region. The prevalence of binge drinking, obesity, and smoking among American Indians in the region was significantly higher than among non-Hispanic whites in the same region and among American Indian/Alaska Native populations in other regions, while the use of colon cancer screening was significantly lower. These results indicate a need for continued efforts to reduce cancer health disparities affecting American Indians. Findings will be published in Public Health Reports in 2011.

Pandemic Flu Preparedness in Nebraska Nursing Homes.

Dr Philip Smith and public health summer student Brendan Brodersen tested a pandemic influenza preparedness planning tool on Nebraska nursing homes. They found that although most facilities have started pandemic influenza planning, a number of areas needed work, such as stockpiling needed supplies and undertaking practice exercises to make certain that the plan is effective. The results of the study will be published in the Annals of Long Term Care in 2011.