Occupational Epidemiology Program Launches at UC Berkeley

Ellen Eisen

COEH faculty member Ellen Eisen, adjunct professor in the School of Public Health (SPH) at UC Berkeley, is the director of a new Occupational Epidemiology program funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The program will prepare MS, MPH and PhD students for leadership roles as occupational epidemiologists in governmental public health agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities and private industry.

Core faculty for the program from UC Berkeley include COEH members Michael Bates, adjunct professor of epidemiology at SPH and Patricia Buffler, professor of epidemiology and dean emeritus, who was also recently elected president of the International Epidemiological Association.1 Joining Bates and Buffler is John Balmes, director of COEH and professor of Medicine in the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at UCSF.

Nine others from UC Berkeley, UCSF, UC Davis and UCLA* will contribute as teaching faculty who will serve on thesis and qualifying examination committees. Collaborators from Stanford University are Mark Cullen, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and Peggy Reynolds, senior research scientist at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

The program faculty offer expertise in occupational and pulmonary medicine, exposure assessment, epidemiologic methods, ergonomics, cancer epidemiology, toxicology, social epidemiology and injury and respiratory epidemiology.

COEH has a comprehensive teaching program including three core and one affiliated NIOSH-funded disciplines.2 "Now, we are able to add to training with a targeted program in occupational epidemiology," says Eisen. "Training in epidemiology enables scientists to look at clinical outcomes or causes of death and assess the risk of those health endpoints in relation to specific workplace exposure. The exposure of interest could be an airborne chemical, organic dust or a physical hazard; you need epidemiologic tools to establish the link."

“Training in epidemiology enables scientists to look at clinical outcomes or specific causes of death and assess the risk of those health endpoints in relation to specific workplace exposure.”
Ellen Eisen

The program is funded for four years and it includes tuition and stipend support for three graduate students: two PhD candidates and one MPH student have been accepted.  Trainees may enroll in different divisions in the SPH such as epidemiology, biostatistics or environmental health sciences, and they are required to take a set of core courses including risk assessment, exposure assessment, and occupational health.

Eisen earned an MS and ScD from the School of Public Health at Harvard University. Her research spans occupational and environmental health, biostatistics and epidemiology. She is currently involved in several large cohort studies of occupationally exposed populations and in applying causal methods to reduce bias due to healthy worker survivor effect.  She is following a cohort of autoworkers exposed to metalworking fluids to investigate cancer incidence3 and cardiovascular mortality.  Other ongoing projects include a study of incident heart disease in a cohort of aluminum manufacturing workers exposed to small particles and a prospective pooled study of carpel tunnel syndrome.  In a cohort study of female textile workers in Shanghai, Eisen and colleagues from the University of Washington have found evidence that endotoxin exposure, occurring 20 years earlier, may provide an anti-carcinogenic effect against lung cancer.4

1 http://sph.berkeley.edu/news/2011/buffler.php

2 http://coeh.berkeley.edu/about/default.htm

3 Costello S, Friesen MC, Christiani DC, Eisen EA. Metalworking fluids and malignant melanoma in autoworkers. Epidemiology. 2011;22(1):90-97.

4 Agalliu I, Costello S, Applebaum KM, Ray RM, Astrakianakis G, Gao DL, Thomas DB, Checkoway H, Eisen EA. Risk of lung cancer in relation to contiguous windows of endotoxin exposure among female textile workers in Shanghai. Cancer, Causes and Control. 2011 Jul 6.

*UC Berkeley faculty includes Katharine Hammond, Stephen Rappaport and Martin Smith. UC Davis faculty includes Stephen McCurdy and Marc Schenker. UCSF faculty includes Paul Blanc, Robert Harrison and David Rempel. Niklas Krause from UCLA will also participate.


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