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The Center for Molecular Epidemiology is an Institutional Development Award (IDeA), funded by the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, that is transforming the research capacity at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine by stimulating high impact research, and translating cutting-edge approaches to enhance human health discoveries. The five-year Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grants support thematic, multidisciplinary centers that augment and strengthen institutional biomedical research capacity.

In Phase I of the Center for Molecular Epidemiology, promising early career investigators are carrying out innovative molecular epidemiology research surrounding the central themes of:

1) Applying state-of-the-art scientific discoveries and technologies to address major health concerns;

2) Identifying early indicators of disease pathogenesis; and

3) Exploring common pathways of disease etiology and progression.

“I am very excited that Dartmouth has received this award,” said Duane Compton, PhD, senior associate dean for research and director of the Cancer Mechanisms Research Program. “It will allow us to build a center devoted to understanding how environmental exposures combine with genetic backgrounds to impact human health.”

“It also recognizes the scientific strength and mentoring abilities of Dr. Margaret Karagas who has been instrumental in developing this program at the Geisel School of Medicine.”

Three Geisel School of Medicine researchers and one Dartmouth College researcher lead four projects targeting emerging public health issues that will inform early prevention and changes in practice.

Brock Christensen, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, leads the project investigating early risk factor related epigenetic alterations in breast cancer pathogenesis. He is testing the hypothesis that known and suspected breast cancer risk factors contribute to epigenetic alterations in normal breast tissue to cancer.

Juliette Madan, MD, MS, assistant professor of pediatrics, leads the project investigating the neonatal microbiome. Building on her current research in babies with cystic fibrosis and prematurity, she is investigating intestinal bacterial colonization in pre- and full-term infants and how they are connected to infection and allergy risk.

Diane Gilbert-Diamond, DSc, assistant professor of epidemiology, leads the project investigating the relationship between in-utero vitamin D and immune function in early childhood. With a strong foundation in nutritional epidemiology, she is analyzing accumulating evidence of the important role that vitamin D plays in immunity and infection, and the potential for vitamin D receptor polymorphisms to modify risk.

Tracy Punshon, PhD, research assistant professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College, leads the project assessing maternal-fetal exposure pathways using bio-imaging. This research examines the relationship between maternal and infant biomarker concentrations, placental concentrations and distribution, and possible modification by candidate gene polymorphisms.

“We have an extraordinarily talented group of early career faculty conducting state-of-the-art epidemiologic research,” said Margaret Karagas, PhD, professor of community and family medicine, and Director of the Center. “Epidemiology is becoming increasingly valued for its contribution to illuminating the causes, and in turn, prevention of human disease. We hope this new infrastructure will serve not only the institution, but the region and beyond.”

Wendy Wells, MD, professor of pathology, and Carmen Marsit, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, co-direct the Biorepository Core. This Core provides specialized expertise to the proposed projects for the five-year COBRE and will produce a sustainable Core for Molecular Epidemiology.

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