Epidemiology and Population Science

  • Myrna Weissman, PhD

    Area Leader, Epidemiology and Population Science

  • Denise Kandel, PhD

    Area Leader, Epidemiology and Population Science

    Headshot of Denise Kandel, PhD
  • Bruce Dohrenwend, PhD

    Area Leader, Epidemiology and Population Science

Overview

Epidemiology and Population Science is comprised of three divisions: Translational Epidemiology, directed by Myrna Weissman, PhD; Epidemiology of Substance Abuse, directed by Denise Kandel, PhD; and Social Psychiatry, directed by Bruce Dohrenwend, PhD. Faculty work closely together and are affiliated with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The mission of this research area is to advance the understanding, prevention, and treatment of psychiatric disorders using a broad range of epidemiologic methods. For example, hypotheses are generated from the basic laboratory sciences and translated to testing in clinical or population samples and vice-versa. Population or clinical findings are translated into experimental approaches. Large scale surveys to determine risks, rates, and inform health care policy are carried out.

The area includes about 30 faculty researchers who are grouped into areas of expertise and two core facilities. The research is funded by the federal government, New York State, foundations, and philanthropy. The area is involved in research training of masters, doctoral and medical students, psychiatric residents, postdoctoral fellows and includes four training grants: two in global mental health, one in the epidemiology of substance abuse, and one in the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders. Consultation on design, sampling, assessment, recruitment, epidemiologic statistics, data management, clinical trials, handling large data sets, repository handling, and human investigation is offered to investigators.

Goals

  • To use big datasets to examine the rates, risks, and course of illness and patterns of care
  • To test findings from animal studies on the long-term effects of gestational exposure
  • To investigate in animal models the biological basis of epidemiological findings from human populations, in particular the priming effects of selected drugs
  • To search for biological mechanisms of disease using electrophysiology, neuroimaging, and genetic approaches in well-designed clinical/population studies
  • To examine the role of adversity and stress on the onset and course of psychiatric disorders
  • To use population data to monitor emerging public health threats such as opioid misuse, overdose deaths, and suicide for health planning and identifying needs for mental health resources and disparities
  • To implement longitudinal studies to identify the risks and consequences of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse
  • To narrow the gaps between clinical science and mental health care delivery by characterizing patient flow and care, use of evidence-based practices, and their safety and effectiveness
  • To collect large data sets for studies of genetic disorders or biomarkers of treatment responses and to deliver these data to the NIH repositories for wide scientific use
  • To conduct a research program on the implementation of science-based approaches to mental health treatment in low-income countries and low-income neighborhoods in the U.S.
  • To advise and work collaboratively within and outside the Department of Psychiatry on epidemiologic design, sampling, and data collection
  • To train the next generation of scientists in translational epidemiology

Current Research

  • Multiple studies of prenatal exposure to toxins and medication and the risk of long term psychiatric and behavioral outcomes
  • Multiple studies on the effects of use and misuse of drugs or alcohol and assessment of their prevalence
  • Long term studies on the clinical course and moderating factors of three generations at high risk for depression, in collaboration with neuroimaging scientists and electrophysiologists to elucidate brain mechanisms and identify biomarkers
  • Global studies to implement and disseminate sustainable and scalable evidence-based practices
  • Use of medical records and large medical databases to understand healthcare economics, delivery, at-risk populations, prescribing practices, changes in medical delivery patterns, and to inform policy in N.Y. state and throughout the U.S.
  • Adaptation of brief psychosocial interventions scalable for community settings for use in the U.S. and globally
  • Develop new tools for monitoring substance abuse
  • Provide mental health education and test its effectiveness in black churches
  • Studies of periconceptual folic acid as a protective factor for ASD in the Autism Birth Cohort of the Norwegian Mother and Child Birth Cohort Study
  • Genomics of schizophrenia among the Xhosa-speaking people in South Africa
  • Regional mental health research network in Latin America known as Rede Americas, including a randomized clinical trial of an intervention for people with psychotic disorders at first entry to a mental health center
  • Studies of the relation of genomic variants to congenital heart defects and miscarriage; evaluation of a new assay to detect copy number variants
  • Investigation of factors in the onset and course of war-related PTSD in U.S. Vietnam veterans, using interview data from the Congressionally-mandated National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study and National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study, supplemented by data from historical accounts and military records
  • Conceptualization and measurement of major stressful life events over the life course
  • Studies on the extent, at-risk populations, course, causes and consequences of the opioid epidemic.
  • Investigation of the relationship between substance abuse and PTSD
  • Test of the gateway hypothesis in rodents and identification of the molecular mechanisms underlying the priming effects of nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana (VIM) on cocaine

Areas of Expertise

Core Facilities

Biostatistics

Priya Wickramaratne, PhD, provides consultation on research design and statistical approaches and programs for grant preparation and ongoing studies. She provides assistance in data analysis including the supervision and hiring of analytic staff.

Data Management and Curation

Marc Gameroff, PhD, provides assistance on the collection, management, storage, and transfer of large data sets including clinical, imaging, and genetics data. He provides advice on transfer of data to repositories and on the maintenance and transfer of data ensuring confidentiality. He also provides assistance on the application and maintenance of IRB procedures.