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Arnold School of Public Health

Epidemiology & Biostatistics

The Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics (EPID/BIOS) specializes in several areas of research. BIOS research areas are organized by the interests and expertise of individual faculty members. EPID research is organized by areas of ongoing research. The department is also affiliated with several research centers within the Arnold School and the University of South Carolina.   

Biostatistics Research Areas (By Faculty Members)

Bo Cai

  • Bayesain semiparametric/nonparametric methods
  • variable selection
  • longitudinal and clustered data analysis
  • spatial data analysis
  • survival data analysis
  • statistical computing

Hrishikesh Chakraborty

  • clinical trials
  • cluster randomized trials
  • modeling longitudinal data
  • multivariate methods
  • nonparametric methods
  • cluster analysis
  • probabilistic modeling of biological systems
  • international trials/studies
  • infectious diseases research including HIV/AIDS
  • maternal and child health research
  • comparative effectiveness research
  • data coordinating centers

James Hardin

  • mixed models
  • biostatistical computing
  • generalized estimating equations

James Hussey

  • mixed models
  • experimental design

Alex McLain

  • survival analysis
  • length biased data
  • joint modeling of longitudinal and survival data
  • multiple testing
  • maternal and child health
  • missing data
  • mixed-effects models

Robert Moran

  • nutritional instruments
  • data management

Andrew Ortaglia

  • semi-parametric models
  • survival analysis
  • health aspects of physical activity

Jiajia Zhang

  • survival analysis
  • cure rate models
  • Bayesian methods


Epidemiology Research Areas (By Specialty)

Cancer (Swann Adams, James Burch, Jan Eberth, James Hébert, Susan Steck)

With the significant increase in life span, more and more Americans are being impacted by cancer. While we have made significant progress in increasing survival time from many cancers, there is still much which remains undiscovered in this exciting area of research.  S.C. is an ideal place to study cancer as we have some of the highest incidence rates and most extreme cancer health disparities in the world.

USC's Cancer Prevention and Control Program (CPCP) is one of the premier programs of its kind in the world. CPCP scientists are dedicated to discovering the underlying causes of cancer and have special interest in the large cancer disparities seen in African Americans in comparison to their European-American counterparts. The Program’s aim in discovery is to inform people and organizations who are willing and able to make a difference in the fight against cancer.  While CPCP research spans the globe, we understand that research conducted elsewhere - or spearheaded by scientists based elsewhere - will not lead to practical advancement of knowledge as to why rates of cancer in African Americans are so much higher in South Carolina. In all of work we link research, service and training the next generation of researchers. We are keenly interested in engaging students in our research ranging from genetics to behavioral risk factors to health care delivery.

Diabetes (Angela Liese, Jihong Liu, Robert Moran)

Research in the field of diabetes epidemiology spans the life course, as ongoing projects include children, adolescents and adults. Current studies include the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth study, a multi-center, observational, federally-funded study, which includes both surveillance and follow-up components. One of the study's main aims is to estimate trends in incidence of diabetes in youth, including type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, this effort aims to advance the understanding of the evolution of diabetes, including markers of complications and quality of care. Ancillary studies are focusing on the link between depression and diabetes and risk factors for type 2 diabetes in youth. Ongoing studies of adult diabetes include translational research research on diabetes self-management and scientific participation in the follow-up of clinical trial populations.

Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology (James Burch and Suzanne McDermott)

Environmental epidemiology is the study of effects of the physical and chemical environment on the frequency and distribution of diseases and injuries in the population. Environmental epidemiologists study health effects in populations resulting from exposure to physical, chemical and biological agents. This can include the contribution of social, economic, cultural and global factors (e.g., urbanization, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, energy production, global warming) that are related to these exposures. Recognition of health hazards posed by large-scale industrialization, environmental changes, and ecological disruption, often via indirect pathways, has added an extra dimension to this field. Related disciplines are occupational, social (social environment, lifestyles) and infectious disease epidemiology (exposure to microbial agents). Interest in environmental epidemiology has increased in the last decade, since gene environment interactions seem to explain a large proportion of the disease occurrence. Hence, to understand the effect of genetic polymorphisms, we need a better understanding of their interaction with environmental factors.

Occupational epidemiology is the study of effects of workplaces on the frequency and distribution of diseases and injuries in worker populations. Occupational epidemiologic studies may involve looking at workers exposed to a variety of chemical, biological or physical (e.g., noise, heat, radiation) agents to determine if the exposures result in the risk of adverse health outcomes. Alternatively, epidemiologic studies may involve the evaluation of workers with a common adverse health outcome to determine if an agent or set of agents may explain their disease.

Geographic Information Systems/Special (Swann Adams, James Burch, Bo Cai, Jan Eberth)

Geographic information systems (GIS) provide the ability to visualize and analyze spatially-referenced data in digital format. Much like John Snow’s famous hand-drawn cholera maps in London, disease cases and environmental assets/contaminants can be mapped to help generate or test epidemiological hypotheses now at the touch of button. In addition to traditional epidemiology studies, GIS can be used to examine the shifting health care landscape, investigate the physical and social environment, and explore geographic disparities. GIS is a tool that public health researchers and practitioners can use in nearly all areas of epidemiology. Our faculty have utilized GIS and other spatial statistical tools in the areas of cancer, diabetes, food security, HPV, and infant mortality. Students with interest in using GIS and/or spatial statistics are encouraged to engage our faculty about their research and opportunities for involvement.

Health Disparities (Swann Adams, Jan Eberth, Nancy Fleischer, Suzanne McDermott, Jihong Liu, Susan Steck, Kellee White, Edith Williams)

Positioned in a state which faces some of the worst health disparities in the nation, the our department boasts a strong cadre of researchers dedicated to identifying, understanding, and intervening upon these disparities and health inequities, both in our state and around the world. Our current research interests and projects include the areas of cancer, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases, with particular focus in African American and Latino populations, rural and geographically isolated populations, and populations in low- and middle-income countries. Numerous opportunities are available for students to engage in community-based participatory research, genetic epidemiology, health care access, physical activity interventions, geographic information systems (GIS), and social epidemiologic approaches to this problem. As all faculty understand and support the mission to train the next generation of health disparities researchers, students are encourage to engage our faculty in this area.

Infectious Disease Epidemiology (Myriam Torres)

Today, epidemiology is widely used in conjunction with non-infectious diseases. In its original meaning, however, the term epidemiology was exclusively used for infectious diseases. The primary goal of modern infectious disease epidemiology is not to incriminate potential causes of disease; modern diagnostic laboratories have a phenomenal arsenal of microbiological and molecular techniques to identify microorganisms. Nowadays, infectious disease epidemiology fundamentally deals with questions about conditions for disease emergence, spread and persistence. The methods employed range from field investigations, to laboratory studies and mathematical and/or statistical analyses. The resulting insights inform important health policies such as regarding vaccination and are crucial in our preparation for emerging threads such as an impending influenza pandemic or novel infectious agents.

Molecular Epidemiology (James Burch, Susan Steck)

The department has a rapidly growing research portfolio in the area of molecular epidemiology. Faculty members are investigating polymorphisms in genes involved in regulating circadian rhythms, carcinogen metabolism, DNA repair, and nutrient metabolism in relation to incidence of and mortality from breast and colon cancers. Identification of joint effects of genes and environmental or demographic factors such as sleep rhythms, race, and nutrition in relation to cancer risk and mortality are actively being pursued. Current research projects related to circadian rhythms include examining the relationship between circadian rhythm disruption and breast and colon cancer risk and polyp formation. Ongoing research projects in relation to nutrition include the associations among cooked meat intake, DNA repair genes, and breast cancer risk, recurrence, and survival; and the relationship between serum and breast tissue vitamin D metabolites and vitamin D-related genetic polymorphisms by race. These studies are part of the USC Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

Nutrition (James Hébert, Angela Liese, Jihong Liu, Susan Steck, Myriam Torres)

The department has an extraordinarily active research portfolio in the area of nutritional epidemiology. Risk factor domains under investigation include specific nutrients and foods, food intake patterns and dietary behaviors, and nutrient-gene interactions. Health outcomes under consideration in relation to nutrition include atherosclerosis, cancers of various sites, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, maternal and fetal health outcomes, and obesity. Strong programmatic connections exist to the USC Cancer Prevention and Control Program and the Arnold School’s Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities. In close collaboration with department faculty, these entities conduct studies related both to methodological issues in nutrition and dietary assessment and those focused on discovery of factors associated with primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of specific diseases. Study designs range from ecological (e.g., where, at the macro level, we characterize the nutrition environment and its impact on a variety of health outcomes), to observational (i.e., case-control and cohort) studies, to clinical and community trials.

Obesity (Steven Blair, James Hébert, Angela Liese, Jihong Liu, Susan Steck)

Obesity research spans the entire lifecycle and intersects with multiple other research foci at our department. Within obesity research, the emphasis is placed on assessment of physical activity and dietary intake and their respective contributions to the development of overweight and obesity, both at the level of individuals and the built environment. Several groups conduct studies on the health problems associated with overweight and obesity.

Research into the causes and consequences of obesity intersects with multiple other research foci in our department, including diet and physical activity behaviors and disease outcomes ranging from diabetes to birth outcomes to cancer. Emphasis is placed on assessment of physical activity and dietary intake and their respective contributions to overweight and obesity, metabolic dysfunction related to inflammation and oxidative damage, and chronic disease outcomes. Our work utilizes an array of measurement tools ranging from molecular biology, health behavior, accelerometers and other personal measurement devices, to dual x-ray absorptiometry to attributes of the built environment. Outcomes range from novel intermediate biological endpoints to psychosocial factors.

Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology (Angela Liese, Jihong Liu, Myriam Torres, Edith Williams, Suzanne McDermott)

Our department has developed a research focus in the area of pediatric and perinatal epidemiology, with active, externally funded projects exploring the prevention and management of key chronic health conditions affecting our children and youth. These areas include asthma and allergies, diabetes, obesity, attention deficit disorders, depression and suicidality, and the behaviors such as nutrition and physical activity. Several longitudinal projects focus on the perinatal period and in utero exposures and their relationship to longer-term child health.

Physical Activity (Swann Adams, Daheia Barr-Anderson, Steven Blair, James Hébert, Angela Liese, Jihong Liu)

Our department has a strong tradition of physical activity research. Faculty interests in this area are broad and diverse and cover the spectrum from the micro level to the macro level. Current research studies include examining the influence of the built environment on adolescent physical activity in an urban environment, and investigating the impact of physical activity on cancer, diabetes, birth outcomes, and mother's health around pregnancy. Other study topics include behavioral interventions to promote physical activity and large population studies on physical activity, physical fitness, and numerous health outcomes. Students can capitalize on the collaborative work being conducted with other departments and centers within the Arnold School of Public Health and across the university.

Public Health Gerontology (Steven Blair, James Hébert, Ana Teixeira)

The department, the Arnold School, and the University have a substantial research focus in gerontology. The Office for the Study of Aging (OSA), is within the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics. OSA provides services to the State of South Carolina that improve the lives of older South Carolinians, and conducts research on aging.

The aging of our population makes this a critical field for public health. OSA has maintained a state-wide population-based Alzheimer’s Disease Registry since 1988. OSA also conducts research on access to health care, disaster preparedness, health disparities, long term care, medication management, and physical activity—all with a focus on older populations. OSA works closely with the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, developing, providing, and evaluating programs for the state’s seniors.

Public health gerontology is inherently interdisciplinary. Department faculty collaborate for research on aging with faculty in Exercise Science; Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior; and Health Services Management and Policy; as well as the Prevention Research Center, the South Carolina Rural Health Research Center, the USC School of Medicine, the USC School of Pharmacy, and other University colleges and schools. Other Department faculty conduct related research on cancer, cardiovascular disease, and disaster preparedness. At the University level, the Healthy Aging Research Consortium stimulates coordinated research on aging among many departments and schools.