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Molecular Epidemiology Course Combines Methods and Practical Training

July 2013 - Linkage Newsletter

by Wendy Schneider-Levinson

In the winter of 2013, DCEG conducted a course on Molecular Epidemiology for DCEG fellows, a 15-session curriculum taught by DCEG staff and invited guest speakers. The course included explanations of methodologic concepts accompanied by practical examples of the application of a wide range of biological markers in cancer epidemiology.

Jonine Figueroa, Ph.D. M.P.H., a tenure-track investigator in the Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch (HREB), and Nathaniel Rothman, M.D., M.P.H., M.H.S., a senior investigator in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB) and lead editor of Molecular Epidemiology: Principles and Practices (International Agency for Research on Cancer Scientific Publication, 2012), which was used as the course text, co-directed the course.

The course content was grouped into five sections. The curriculum began with an overview of conceptual issues in the use of biomarkers in cancer epidemiology. Over a period of two months, participants learned about study designs, methods, and analytic approaches in detail, including the validation and use of intermediate endpoint biomarkers, microarrays, proteomics, genotyping, pharmacogenetics, and strategies for identifying susceptibility genes in large-scale population studies. Participants also learned about funding opportunities and proposal writing.

“In DCEG, one of our goals is to train the next generation of scientists,” Dr. Figueroa said. “We designed the Molecular Epidemiology course specifically to give our fellows and other students a good grounding in the real nuts-and-bolts practical applications of molecular epidemiology as well as methodologic issues.”

Concurrent with the Molecular Epidemiology Course, Nilanjan Chatterjee, Ph.D., Chief of the Biostatistics Branch (BB) and BB investigators, and Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., Chief of the Laboratory of Translational Genomics and Director of the SAIC-Frederick–supported Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory (CGR), Meredith Yeager, Ph.D., Scientific Director of CGR, and CGR staff members jointly presented a day-and-a-half course on Genomics and Data Analysis, which was open to the entire Division. CGR staff members covered topics relevant to conducting genome-wide association and sequencing studies, providing an overview about how the data are created in the lab, how quality control and data cleaning are performed, and how the basic data analysis pipeline is built. The speakers also discussed how work is coordinated with the DNA Extraction and Staging Laboratory in Frederick, Maryland. BB investigators covered advanced topics for design and analysis of these studies. Specific areas included designing studies that incorporate genotyping and next-generation sequencing technologies, adjusting for population stratification, methods for meta-analysis, analysis of gene-environment interaction, and association tests for rare variants. “Our goal was to discuss current and cutting edge biotechnology as well as how to integrate these methods into epidemiologic study designs,” said Dr. Rothman.

An important feature of both courses was the involvement of DCEG scientists and staff as faculty members. The courses were cross-cutting, with faculty drawn from all over the Division, including: Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., M.P.H., Nutritional Epidemiology Branch (NEB), Sara Bass, M.S. (CGR), Joseph Boland, M.S., Director of Research and Development at CGR, Neil E. Caporaso, M.D., Chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Branch (GEB), Michael Cullen, Ph.D. (CGR), Eric A. Engels, M.D., Ph.D., Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch (IIB), Roni T. Falk, M.S. (HREB), James J. Goedert, M.D. (IIB), Ji He, Ph.D. (CGR), Marianne K. Henderson, M.S., Chief of the Office of Division Operations and Analysis, Belynda Hicks, M.S., Director of Production Operations at CGR, Allan Hildesheim, Ph.D., Chief of IIB, Amy A. Hutchinson, M.S., Director of Operations and Administration at CGR, Kristie Jones (CGR), Qing Lan, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H. (OEEB), Maria Teresa Landi, M.D., Ph.D. (GEB), Sally Larson (CGR), Lee E. Moore, Ph.D., M.P.H. (OEEB), Steven C. Moore, Ph.D. (NEB), Karen E. Pitt, Ph.D., Office of the Director, Joshua Sampson, Ph.D. (BB), Sharon A. Savage, M.D., Clinical Genetics Branch (CGB), Mark Schiffman, M.D., M.P.H. (CGB), Mark E. Sherman, M.D. (HREB), Jianxin Shi, Ph.D. (BB), Alice J. Sigurdson, Ph.D., Radiation Epidemiology Branch, Sholom Wacholder, Ph.D. (BB), Zhaoming Wang, Ph.D. (CGR), Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., M.S. (HREB), and Kai Yu, Ph.D. (BB). DCEG Office of Education (OE) staff, including Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., Chief of OE, Kristin Kiser, M.H.A., M.S., and Pamela Lotinsky, provided coordination and administrative assistance.

Guest lecturers included Ms. Katheryn Shea, Vice President of Bioservices at Precision Bioservices, Inc.; Dr. Avrum Spira of the Division of Computational Biomedicine at the Boston University School of Medicine; Dr. Roel Vermeulen of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Environmental Epidemiology Division, of Utrecht University in The Netherlands; and Dr. Ming Zhou of the Laboratory of Proteomics and Analytical Technologies in the Advanced Technology Program of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.

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