Large, deeply phenotyped cohorts are reshaping the world of environmental epidemiology. Two such “big data” resources that are reshaping how we understand environmental health are electronic health records and human cohorts with genome-wide molecular phenotyping. Each provides a unique perspective that is moving the field closer towards “personalized” insights into environmental health risks. Here I will talk about a series of studies which utilize electronic health records and molecularly phenotyped cohorts to investigate vulnerable populations, gene-environment interactions, and epigenetic biomarkers of environmental sensitivity. Together these studies are helping us to understand environmental health risks in a new light.
Dr. Cavin Ward-Caviness is a Principal Investigator in the Public Health and Integrated Toxicology Division of the US Environmental Protection Agency. With a background in computational biology and environmental epidemiology, Dr. Ward-Caviness seeks to understand the environmental factors which influence health in vulnerable populations and the molecular mechanisms that influence environmental health risks. The Ward-Caviness lab uses a variety of “big data” approaches, and Dr. Ward-Caviness is the PI of the EPA CARES research resource, which allows researchers to study environmental health effects in vulnerable patient populations, e.g. individuals with heart failure, using large electronic health record databases. Dr. Ward-Caviness is also interested in how epigenetics and metabolomics can serve as an early indicator of adverse health effects from chemical and social environmental exposures and in particular how molecular biomarkers can give us insight into how the environment may accelerate the aging process and thus contribute to chronic disease. By integrating molecular and clinical data, Dr. Ward-Caviness seeks to understand environmental health as a way to advance personalized medicine and reduce health disparities.