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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Rena Jones Appointed as Tenure-Track Investigator for Environmental Exposure Assessment

Rena Jones

Rena Jones, Ph.D., M.S., a newly-appointed tenure-track investigator in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch (OEEB), develops methods to improve estimates of environmental exposures, particularly air pollutants and drinking water contaminants, for epidemiologic studies of cancer risk.

“I have always been drawn to the methodological challenges inherent in estimating complicated exposures, particularly those in our environment that we experience over long periods of time,” said Dr. Jones, who joined OEEB in 2012 as a postdoctoral fellow under the mentorship of Mary Ward, Ph.D., and was subsequently promoted to research fellow in 2014.

Dr. Jones co-leads the Southern California Ultrafines Study with OEEB Chief Debra Silverman, Sc.D. This 65,000-participant study examines the relationship between exposure to particle emissions from traffic and lung cancer risk. In collaboration with Laura Beane Freeman, Ph.D., she is developing models to estimate air and groundwater contamination from large-scale animal feeding operations in the Agricultural Health Study cohort. This population also experiences relatively high exposures to nitrate from fertilizers, and is ideal for an extension of previously successful approaches conducted by Dr. Jones and Dr. Ward to estimate nitrate concentrations in drinking water and to evaluate their relationship with cancer risk.

Environmental exposure estimates, especially in retrospective studies, are subject to multiple sources of error that may reduce the accuracy of observed cancer associations. To combat these issues, Dr. Jones and colleagues are advancing clever strategies that take advantage of cutting-edge technology and available data resources. They develop refinements to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based approaches, such as consideration of residential mobility and other participant behaviors, and reduction of positional errors in residence location, to assess environmental exposures.

As part of her efforts to promote awareness and advancement of GIS tools, Dr. Jones co-chairs the DCEG Geographic Analysis Working Group along with Dr. Ward. This group’s focus is the expansion and improvement of modern GIS technology and geospatial methods in epidemiologic studies of cancer.