EPIGENOMICS AND HEALTH DISPARITIES SYMPOSIUM
October 2, 2017
How Disadvantage Gets “Under the Skin”: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on Using Epigenomic Methods to Better Understand and Address Health Disparities
A forum of the Harvard Catalyst Health Disparities Research Program
Health disparities in the U.S. are produced not only through unequal treatment within the healthcare system, but also through systematic disadvantage, inequality, and disproportionate exposures to toxic physical and social environments, all of which often lead to increased risk of many diseases—including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and mental illness, among others. Recent advances in environmental epigenomics have allowed researchers to gain tremendous insights into several mechanisms through which gene function and regulation are sensitive to influence from diverse socio-economic factors and physical environments. Epigenomics as a field may offer valuable insights into the actual biological mechanisms through which health disparities are established and perpetuated. This potential, however, has not been rigorously explored.
Aimed at further exploring some of these critical issues, this symposium brought together leading national and international experts in epigenetics, genetics, health disparities, medicine, epidemiology, anthropology, and environmental health sciences to explore and discuss emerging methods in epigenomics research and how these might be applied most creatively to advance the goals of reducing health disparities and improving population health. Sponsored by the Harvard Catalyst Health Disparities Research Program, this symposium included interdisciplinary panels covering: (1) novel and emerging techniques and methods in epigenomics and gene-environment research; (2) emerging research on the associations of psychosocial and environmental stressors with epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation; and (3) perspectives from fields outside of epigenomics on how advances in epigenomics research can be best used to address persistent health disparities.
This effort led the way for interdisciplinary relationships, collaborations, shared resources, pilot grants, and larger grants. Specifically, this symposium disseminated information and promoted new collaborations intended to make possible the development of groundbreaking research and advances at the intersection of health disparities research and epigenomics research.
Recordings of the panels are linked below.
Panel I: Emerging issues in the measurement & analysis of epigenomic data, particularly with regard to addressing health disparities
Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health (Moderator)
- Detection of cell-specific effects in methylation studies using a mixture of cell types (Liming Liang, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
- The role of epigenetic factors in explaining health disparities: Some considerations for causal inference (Linda Valeri, PhD, McLean Hospital & Harvard Medical School)
- Interpreting small effect sizes in epigenomics (Carrie Breton, ScD, Keck School of Medicine of USC)
- Building confidence in methylomic data (Allan Just, PhD, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)
Panel II: Epigenomic signals in relation to social and environmental influences
Alexandra E. Shields, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School (Moderator)
- Psychosocial stress and epigenomic modification (Heather Burris, MD, MPH, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania & Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)
- Transgenerational epigenomic effects of trauma and stress (Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital & HMS)
- Epigenome-wide associations of PTSD: Findings from the Psychiatrics Genomics Consortium (Andrew Ratanatharathorn, MA, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health)
- Epigenomic analysis in the National Study on Psychosocial Stress, Spirituality, and Health (Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health)
Panel III: Transdisciplinary roundtable
Evelynn Hammonds, PhD, Harvard University (Moderator)
- Epigenomics & Environmental Health (Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health)
- Distributive Justice (Norman Daniels, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
- Psychiatry&Neuroscience(Steven Hyman, MD, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard)
- Sociology (Michèle Lamont, PhD, Harvard University)
- Health Policy & Disparities Research (Alexandra E. Shields, PhD, Mass. General Hospital & Harvard Medical School)