Past RISE Initiatives

Below are examples of some projects undertaken by the Summer Program in Epidemiology interns in collaboration with postdoctoral fellows and faculty members. These projects span a broad spectrum of research areas within epidemiology and public health, covering topics ranging from demographic trends to environmental influences on health. Working alongside their mentors, the interns explored diverse aspects of these complex issues, utilizing epidemiological methods and conducting research.

Burnout and suicidal ideation among working Chilean adults
Project Summary: This project aimed to investigate the relationship between burnout and neuropsychiatric outcomes among working adults, utilizing data from the SPLENDID Study conducted at the Hospital del Trabajador in Santiago, Chile. The study collected information on pain, work-related stress, and neuropsychiatric outcomes from approximately 2000 participants through structured questionnaires. The interns were taught epidemiologic and biostatistics skills while working on a research project mentored by Dr. Bizu Gelaye in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH. They participated in GRAPE meetings, exchanging ideas with a multidisciplinary team from various institutions worldwide. Through quantitative methods, the intern contributed to understanding the prevalence of neuropsychiatric outcomes among Chilean working adults and their correlation with specific working conditions.
Diana Juvinao-Quintero, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Bizu Gelaye.

Trends in Sociodemographic Characteristics and Green Space in the US
Project Summary: The SpaCE2 Laboratory, led by Dr. Francine Laden, Dr. Jaime Hart, and Dr. Peter James, investigates the impact of location-based exposures on health, focusing on air pollution, contextual environmental factors, and their relation to chronic diseases. The lab specializes in geographic information systems and cohort-based epidemiologic research, with a diverse team of researchers.
Mentored by Dr. Hart and Dr. Iyer, interns used geospatial analytic software to process remote sensing data and link it with sociodemographic factors to identify predictors of changes in green space. This project offered hands-on experience in geospatial data analysis and exploration of sociodemographic factors’ influence on green space trends.
Hari Iyer, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Jaime Hart.

Population-based incidence rates of prostate cancer molecular subtypes by race
Project Summary: The project aimed to explore the molecular subtypes of prostate cancer and their influence on incidence rates, particularly focusing on racial disparities. Interns conducted a literature search to understand these subtypes and their variations across different racial/ethnic groups, considering the high incidence and mortality rates among Black men. They utilized SEER data to extract prostate cancer incidence rates across various demographics. By integrating these data sources, interns estimated population-level subtype-specific prostate cancer incidence rates by race. This project facilitated learning about the distinction between prevalence and incidence measures, deepened understanding of prostate cancer, and highlighted how molecular subtype-specific incidence rates contribute to understanding etiology and addressing racial disparities in prostate cancer.
Clair Kim, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Lorelei Mucci.

Testing Delays and Genomic Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 in the US
Project Summary: During the COVID-19 pandemic, molecular testing and genomic sequencing advanced significantly, offering vital insights into the virus’s genome, epidemiology, and evolution. The submission of the first whole-genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 to GenBank on January 5th, 2020, marked a pivotal moment, aiding in the development of molecular tests and vaccines. Over the past years, extensive epidemiological and genomic data have played a crucial role in tracking the outbreak and understanding the virus’s evolution.
As of April 1st, 2021, the US had amassed 22.5 million case list data entries in case surveillance and approximately 0.23 million genomic sequences, as reported by GISAID. However, despite the invaluable information provided by this data, its limitations and impacts have not been thoroughly evaluated. Challenges include limited capabilities and testing delays in capturing all infected individuals, disparities in sequencing capabilities across different locations and time periods, and fluctuations in sampling and sequencing plans over time
 Xueting Qiu, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Marc Lipsitch.

Real-world evaluation of rapid COVID-19 antigen test accuracy
Project Summary: During the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 testing emerged as a crucial yet contentious issue. The project focused on exploring the practicality of various testing methods as public health tools.
Interns tackled the real-world application of diverse testing technologies, including rapid antigen-based tests (AgRDTs). These tests, resembling pregnancy tests, detect viral proteins in samples. However, despite their simplicity and affordability, AgRDTs faced regulatory hurdles in the USA due to stringent sensitivity requirements compared to RT-PCR tests.
Recent modeling work suggested that even a flawless AgRDT may exhibit only 30-60% sensitivity relative to RT-PCR, influenced by transmission rates. This finding challenges conventional assumptions and underscores the complex interplay between individual biology and population-level dynamics. It suggests a need to reassess regulatory standards for AgRDTs, as they may not be realistically achievable.
James Hay, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Michael Mina, provided guidance.

The role of microRNAs in aging – a genetic approach
Project Summary: Aging increases the risk of disease and death. Chronological definitions of aging were deemed suboptimal as individuals of the same age could age at different rates. Genetics played a significant role in determining biological age, with some genes linked to longevity. MicroRNAs (miRNAs), small RNA molecules, regulated gene expression and were implicated in various biological processes, including aging, although their exact role remained unclear.
The intern conducted a literature search to identify aging-related genes using GWAS data. They then analyzed miRNAs that could affect the expression of these genes, utilizing multiple platforms and enrichment analysis. Through annotation and visualization techniques, the intern explored how miRNAs might regulate genes in aging pathways
Michelle Mens, Postdoc, provided guidance.

Dairy consumption during adolescence and adulthood and breast cancer risk in the Nurses’ Health Study
Project Summary: The relationship between dairy consumption and breast cancer is controversial, prompting large-scale investigations. The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), a cohort study following approximately 122,000 female nurses, aimed to explore various health outcomes, including breast cancer risk. Dietary data were collected every four years, including adolescent dietary intake in a subset of the population. The project aimed to assess the link between dairy consumption during high school and adulthood and breast cancer occurrence. Interns characterized dairy intake at multiple time points and investigated its association with breast cancer risk in the NHS.
Emily Riseberg, Postdoc, supervised by  Dr.Stephanie Smith-Warner.

Disparities in phthalate exposure across race/ethnicity during the midlife menopausal transition
Project Summary: Phthalates, a class of chemicals found in various everyday products, pose risks to hormonal balance and reproductive health. Exposure affected nearly all women in the United States, with some racial/ethnic groups experiencing higher concentrations. To delve deeper into these disparities, interns embarked on a systematic review focused on midlife women’s exposure to phthalates. Their tasks included crafting search strategies, reviewing literature, and extracting critical data. Collaborating closely with the Countway Library and their mentor, interns gained valuable insights into conducting formal systematic reviews and contributing to ongoing research efforts in related areas.
Ryan S. Babadi, Postdoc, supervised by Dr. Tamarra James-Todd

The Experiences of Front-line Nurses during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Project Summary: There was an urgent need to understand the physical and psychosocial stressors on American nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Surveys were launched to national cohorts of nurses, including the Nurses’ Health Study 3 and NHS2. Over 22,000 nurses responded to the first survey in April 2021, followed by monthly surveys until April 2021. These surveys covered various aspects such as worksite, exposure to COVID-19-positive patients, PPE use, infection status, and more. Open fields allowed nurses to describe their experiences, which were analyzed by interns using a codebook with over a hundred categories. Interns also calculated statistics on coding reliability. Weekly meetings were held with faculty from Harvard Medical School and Harvard TH Chan and Boston University Schools of Public Health.
Dr. Janet Rich-Edwards provided guidance, Faculty member provided guidance.

Demographic inequities in the impact of COVID-19 among incarcerated populations
Project Summary. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected incarcerated populations, with overcrowded and unsanitary conditions exacerbating the spread of the virus. Limited data hindered understanding of disparities based on age and sex. Interns designed a search strategy for a systematic review, identifying candidate studies and analyzing age differences in COVID-19 metrics among incarcerated individuals compared to the general population.
Dr. Monik Jimenez, a Faculty member, provided guidance.

The association between pre-diagnostic levels of metabolite HMDB05396 and the risk of advanced prostate cancer
Project Summary: The objective of the study was to investigate the connection between circulating levels of the metabolite HMDB05396, which is a triacylglyceride formed by fatty acids and a major component of body fat, and the risk of advanced prostate cancer. Previous research had highlighted that elevated levels of lipid metabolism and total cholesterol were linked with carcinogenesis and increased risks of prostate, colorectal, and breast cancer. Additionally, obesity has been associated with a higher risk of advanced prostate cancer. Prostate cancer ranked second in incidence rates among all cancer cases and sixth in mortality rates worldwide.
Dr. Lorelei Mucci, a Faculty member provided guidance.

Ultra-processed food and the risk of colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer precursors
Project Summary: Colorectal cancer has become a significant public health concern, ranking as the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods, which often lack essential nutrients and contain harmful additives, may contribute to this trend. Interns conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) cohort to investigate the association between ultra-processed food consumption and colorectal cancer risk. This involved developing search strategies, screening articles, conducting meta-analyses, and exploring potential biases. Collaborating with the Countway Library, interns learned formal systematic review techniques and assisted mentors in exploring relevant mechanisms.
 Qiaoli Wang, Postdoc provided guidance.

Mass Incarceration, and Public Health: An Opportunity for Intervention
Project Summary: The United States leads global incarceration rates, with racial disparities evident in its carceral system, where 40% of inmates are Black despite comprising 13% of the population. Mental illness, substance abuse, and chronic conditions are prevalent due to social disadvantage, with limited healthcare provision despite constitutional rights. Without intervention, the growing prison population will exacerbate health disparities. Current efforts focus on re-entry and disease prevention. Objectives include providing examples of existing interventions, identifying gold-standard evaluation methods, assessing interventions accordingly, pinpointing gaps, and offering recommendations for future interventions to address them.
 Dr. Carmen Messerlian, a Faculty member provided guidance.

Fertility Intentions Among Transmasculine Young Adults Seeking Genital Surgery
Project Summary: Limited research exists on how transgender patients perceive parenthood, make decisions regarding fertility preservation, and express reproductive desires, with current data indicating low rates of fertility preservation among them. Factors influencing fertility intentions include adoption, age at social transition, and length of time on testosterone. Barriers to fertility preservation encompass cost, lack of knowledge, the need to delay or cease gender-affirming hormones, insufficient time for completion, gender dysphoria, physical discomfort, and invasive techniques, with prior studies highlighting adverse effects on the quality of life and psychosocial well-being. Objectives include assessing attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge regarding future childbearing and fertility preservation and investigating factors such as age at social transition, length of time on testosterone, and adoption status that may correlate with interests in future childbearing and fertility preservation while identifying barriers.
Dr. Brittany Charlton, a Faculty member provided guidance.

Repetitive behavior symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder and associations with parental education
Project Summary: The study utilized the RBS-R questionnaire to assess repetitive behaviors in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), focusing on behaviors such as compulsions, rituals, resistance to change, abnormal responses, and circumscribed interests. Data was drawn from the Simons Simplex Collection, involving 2,600 families with one ASD-affected child and unaffected parents and siblings.
The research aimed to investigate the correlation between high RBS-R insistence on sameness scores and parental education levels. The null hypothesis posited that as parental education levels increased, the proband’s sameness score would also increase.
Dr. Elise Robinson, a Faculty member provided guidance.