David Christiani, MD, MPH

Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

Professor and Director ERC

Dr. Christiani’s major research interests are occupational, environmental and molecular epidemiology. He has been active in developing new methods for assessing health effects after exposure to pollutants and has a very active interest in international occupational and environmental health studies. In collaboration with other investigators at HSPH, he has developed new biologic markers used in examination of pollutant-induced diseases such as lung cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancer and upper respiratory-tract inflammation. For example, he has led a large multidisciplinary study of the molecular and genetic analysis of lung cancer with specific attention towards genetic susceptibility to lung cancer and genetic-environmental interactions, using PCR-based methods to determine genetic traits and mutations, as well as molecular methods to detect DNA adducts. This work has been a model for examining gene-environmental interactions for cancer development.

Dr. Christiani has also led a project that examines respiratory effects of exposure to respiratory irritants contained in soot from fossil-fuel boilers. The study involves an epidemiologic evaluation of the acute respiratory effects of exposure as well as a detailed investigation including examination of molecular markers in nasal fluid and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in exposed workers and controls.

In February, Dr. Christiani received an award from NIH to study the molecular epidemiology of acute lung injury and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a disorder that occurs after a toxic insult to the lung (e.g., sepsis, smoke inhalation). The syndrome has a high associated mortality, and little is known to prevent development. In collaboration with MGH, he will examine the role of genetic susceptibility in the development of ARDS after a toxic exposure.

He has led a 20-year longitudinal study of respiratory disease in cotton-textile workers in Shanghai, China. The objectives of the study include determining the rate of loss in lung function among cotton dust-exposed workers at various levels of dust exposure and evaluating the relationship of exposure to gram-negative bacterial endotoxin and acute and chronic lung disease.

Dr. Christiani has enjoyed conducting occupational-health research on three continents: Asia, Africa, and North America; developing a wide network of collaboratives and contacts as we undertake new studies of the reproductive effects of exposure to chemicals (China), arsenic exposure and bladder and skin cancer (Taiwan and Bangladesh), exposure to indoor combustion products in respiratory disease (Central America), petrochemical exposures, brain neoplasms and leukemia in Asia (Taiwan), and respiratory effects of paraquat exposure (Africa).

An exciting aspect of the international work is in methodological work, specifically, the development and adaptation of epidemiologic and laboratory techniques to the conditions of the industrializing world. The potential for effective interventions for disease prevention make this work particularly rewarding.