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My research has focused on the potential of epigenetic epidemiology to elucidate the pathway by which adult disease susceptibility is influenced by environmental stimuli during critical periods of plasticity in fetal development. To explore multiple facets of this regulatory network, I have worked to develop expertise in the preprocessing and analysis of sequencing and microarray approaches to interrogate genetic variation, chromatin modifications, mRNA expression, and DNA methylation. In association with the post-doctoral molecular biologists in Dr. Karin Michels interdisciplinary epigenetic research group at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I have had the opportunity to investigate a variety of suspected determinants of intra- and inter-individual epigenetic variation. Among these studies, I have explored the impact of maternal conditions such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and maternal depression on epigenetic patterns, which may mediate changes in metabolic and developmental profiles. I have also assessed associations with environmental exposures such as folic acid, and endocrine disrupting chemicals levels during the first trimester, which have also been suggested to alter developmental patterns. For these projects, I have applied new methods to assess genome-wide epigenetic variation and worked to integrate multiple forms of genomic data to identify functionally relevant biologic pathways.
A major component of my academic career has been assisting scientists to integrate epigenetics into their own research, and consulting on appropriate study design and analysis. In the spring of 2014, I aided the organization and instruction of an epigenetic epidemiology workshop, hosted by the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol. I followed up this teaching engagement with a seminar on a similar topic at the University of Hasselt after a two month Visiting Research Fellowship at the University of Bristol integrating genomic and epigenomic data. This last spring, I spent a month at the University of Chile Nutrition Institute to initiate the incorporation of molecular analysis into our assessment of predictors of pubertal timing to understand physiological programming associated with breast cancer risk. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this summer I designed and taught a multi-disciplinary workshop on the analysis of social and behavior epigenetics attended by postdoctoral fellows and faculty from institutions across the U.S. and U.K. I have contributed to a review of the study design and analytic considerations for epigenetic epidemiology studies in a recent publication in NatureMethods and a chapter in a textbook entitled “Considerations for Design and Analysis of DNA Methylation Studies” soon to be published by Springer. Within the Longwood Medical Area, I have been an active member of a monthly epigenetic working group of students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and clinicians to discuss advancements and challenges in our field and provide feedback on current projects.
Through epigenetic epidemiology I have been able to assess the diverse endogenous and exogenous factors that influence health, while still analyzing molecular pathways that may explain the association. Epigenetic epidemiology is a burgeoning and collaborative field; my academic career has highlighted my commitment to engaging cross-disciplinary perspectives, teaching, and pursing innovative research questions.