New Faculty Q&A with Issa Dahabreh

Issa DahabrehOn January 1, 2021 we will welcome Dr. Issa Dahabreh as Associate Professor of Epidemiology, with a secondary appointment in the Biostatistics department. Learn about the newest member of our faculty in the following article.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where are you from?

I grew up near Athens, Greece and went to medical school in the University of Athens. I came to Boston to study at Tufts University, where I stayed as junior faculty for a brief period. I moved to Brown University in 2012.

What led you to epidemiology? What is it about the field that attracts you?

My first contact with the basics of epidemiology took place in medical school (in Greece you go directly into medical school after high school). All students had to take a course in medical statistics in the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology. Part of the course was taught by Professor Dimitrios Trichopoulos whose name should be familiar to many at Harvard Chan because he was chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the school in the 90s. As you can imagine, there was a lot of emphasis on epidemiologic methods and applications, and that first exposure kick-started my interest in epidemiologic research.

My early work at Brown University was focused on using meta-analysis, almost exclusively with evidence from randomized trials, to answer questions about the effectiveness of different interventions. Gradually, I became interested in using observational data, alone or combined with randomized trial data, to address effectiveness questions. I dove deeper into the causal inference literature and decided to go back to school and pursue doctoral studies in Epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School working on problems related to extending inferences from randomized trials to new target populations (these analyses are sometimes referred to as generalizability or transportability analyses). My fascination with the melding of causal and statistical modeling, and real-world considerations in epidemiologic research has only grown over time.

In your current research, what questions are you most interested in exploring?

The main focus of my work is the use of data from diverse sources, including both observational studies and randomized trials, to address causal questions. One strand of this work focuses on generalizability and transportability methods for combining randomized trial data with external, non-experimental data on target populations of substantive interest. Another strand of this work deals with methods for combining evidence from multiple separately conducted studies to address questions of treatment effectiveness, as in causally interpretable meta-analysis. Some of my collaborative work involves extensions of generalizability and transportability methods to clustered data settings, predictive modeling with data-adaptive approaches, and applications of the methods to study the effectiveness of preventive or therapeutic interventions for common diseases.

What are you most excited about in your new role here? What plans do you have for first few years in the Epi Dept?

I look forward to interacting with faculty and students in the School. I also hope to deepen existing collaborations and build new ones, with members of the epidemiologic methods group, others in the School, and beyond.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?

Vasileia (my wife) and I have two daughters who I have come to call the “twister sisters” – their vortex tends to absorb all free time! When I can, I enjoy playing a bit of chess or reading for fun.

-Coppelia Liebenthal