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Meredith Shiels Awarded Scientific Tenure by the NIH

, by DCEG Staff

Meredith Shiels

In July 2021, Meredith Shiels, Ph.D., M.H.S., was awarded scientific tenure by the NIH and promoted to senior investigator in the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch (IIB). Her research program utilizes a combination of innovative descriptive epidemiologic approaches to confront high-impact public health questions. Dr. Shiels focuses her research on three broad areas: 1) estimating the impact of risk factors on changing cancer rates; 2) quantifying cancer risk and burden in people living with HIV (PLWH); and 3) providing insights into emerging public health crises, including the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, based on careful investigation of national surveillance data.

Since 2016, Dr. Shiels has been the co-principal investigator of the HIV/AIDS Cancer Match Study. Her work has highlighted important changes in cancer rates and burden among PLWH due to a combination of increased utilization of effective antiretroviral therapy and the aging of this population. She demonstrated a shift from predominantly AIDS-defining cancers (i.e., Kaposi sarcoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cervical cancer) to predominantly non-AIDS-defining cancers in the modern era and projected that prostate and lung cancer will be the most common malignancies among PLWH by 2030. Her findings have influenced clinical management and led to innovative thinking about cancer prevention and screening in PLWH.

In parallel, Dr. Shiels’s descriptive epidemiology research characterizes the extent to which changes in important risk factors (e.g., obesity, tobacco use) are driving observed trends in cancer incidence rates. Her work in this area began with her studies evaluating the contribution of the HIV epidemic to U.S. general population cancer rates. More recently, she demonstrated a strong contribution of increases in the prevalence of overweight/obesity in helping to explain rising rates of thyroid cancer in the U.S.

Dr. Shiels also uses her expertise to address rapidly emerging public health crises, including the dramatic and disturbing increase in premature mortality (deaths among 25-64-year-olds) in recent years in the U.S. Some of this work has focused on the evolving drug overdose epidemic, which Dr. Shiels demonstrated is a main contributor among some groups. In addition, she uncovered trends for other causes of death that warrant additional study and public health intervention.

Most recently, Dr. Shiels has applied these methods to better understand the excess mortality in the U.S. related to the COVID-19 pandemic. She revealed that some of the apparent excess was explained by population shifts in the number of Americans 65+, although COVID-19 still contributed substantially. While Dr. Shiels and colleagues continue to examine the mortality patterns caused by the pandemic, she is also exploring the effect of COVID-19 among cancer patients. She is the principal investigator of the COVID and Cancer Linkage Study (COVCan), a data linkage of COVID-19 surveillance systems and cancer registries in multiple U.S. regions. COVCan seeks to uncover the risk of severe COVID-19 among cancer patients and survivors.