Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research

Xray of human heart

 Academic and research training in Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) epidemiology has been offered at the Department of Epidemiology since 1956. The faculty (and a large number of distinguished scientists and public health practitioners trained by this program) have played an active role in the understanding and control of cardiovascular disease witnessed in the last two decades. Current advances in biologic sciences and technology can be exported from the laboratory to the field and allow population-based study of clinical and pre-clinical diseases, and their social, genetic, and contextual determinants. The UNC CVD Training Program, supported in part by an NIH training grant, is actively involved in research endeavors in these areas, and provides both course work and hands-on research experience. This program emphasizes interdisciplinary training and promotes the career development of its trainees.
Please learn more about the many activities of the faculty and students of the CVD Program by exploring links provided in the lower left portion of this website. 
Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology


Research and collaboration in CVD Epidemiology  


Research Projects Available to Students Investigators/Contact Persons
Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) Gerardo Heiss/ Wayne Rosamond
ARIC Neurocognitive Study Gerardo Heiss
CALiCo (gene x environment studies) Gerardo Heiss, Kari North
Cardiovascular Research Network Surveillance Wayne Rosamond
Delay in Assessing Stroke Healthcare (DASH) Study Wayne Rosamond
Dental ARIC Jim Beck
Environmental Epidemiology of Arrhythmogenesis Eric Whitsel
Environmental Air pollution and genetic interaction Eric Whitsel
Enumerating Community Burden of Heart Failure Christy Avery, Laura Loehr, Anna Kucharska-Newton
Epidemiology of kidney diseases Nora Franceschini
Gene-By-Environment interaction for blood pressure traits in multi-ethnic studies Nora Franceschini
Gene x Smoking Interaction and Atherosclerosis Kari North
Genetic Architecture of Adiposity in Multiple Cohorts Kari North
Genetic and Metabolic Disease in Obesity Kari North
Genetics of Coronary and Aortic Calcification Kari North
Genetics of reproductive traits Nora Franceschini
Genomewide Association studies (ARIC, WHI, collaborators) Kari North, Nora Franceschini
Family Heart Study (FHS) Kari North
Heart Rate Variability Gerardo Heiss/ Eric Whitsel
Hispanic Community Health Study-Study of Latinos (SOL) G. Heiss, E. Whitsel, W. Rosamond, Laura Loehr
HyperGEN (Genetic Determinants of High Blood Pressure) Kari North
Life Course SES Gerardo Heiss
Longitudinal Investigation of Venous Thromboembolism (LITE) Wayne Rosamond
Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) Eric Whitsel/ Kari North
MESA Ancillary Study of Physical Activity Kelly Evenson
North Carolina Collaborative Stroke Registry Wayne Rosamond
North Carolina Rapid Response to Stroke Project Wayne Rosamond/ Kelly Evenson
NC Physical Activity and Policy Research Center Kelly Evenson
PIN3 Study Kelly Evenson
Strong Heart Study Kari North
Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Gerardo Heiss
Cardiovascular Outcomes Research Center for the ARIC Study Anna Kucharska-Newton
Collaborative Groups
Carolina Center for Genome Science Department of Emergency Medicine
Carolina Population Center Department of Medicine
Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research Department of Neurology
Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Department of Nephrology
Comprehensive Center for Inflammatory Disorders Department of Nutrition
Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center Department of Physical Medicine
Department of Biostatistics Department of Sociology
Department of City and Regional Planning Institute for Research in Social Science
Department of Dental Ecology School of Dentistry
Other Institutions
Baylor University University of Heidelberg, Germany
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention University of Minnesota
Division of Public Health Sciences, WFU University of Texas at Houston
Framingham Heart Study University of Utah
Harvard Center for Population & Development Study University of Ulm, Germany
Johns Hopkins University Washington University at St. Louis
University of Alabama, Birmingham

Program Faculty

Christy Avery

Christy Avery, PhD
Assistant Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Kelly Evenson

Kelly R. Evenson, PhD
Research Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Nora Franceschini

Nora Franceschini, MD, MPH
Research Assistant Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Gerardo Heiss

Gerardo Heiss, MD, PhD
Kenan Distinguished Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Laura Loehr

Laura Loehr, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Research Areas: Cardiovascular disease

Anna Kucharska-Newton

Anna Kucharska-Newton, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Research Areas: Cardiovascular disease

Kari North

Kari E. North, PhD
Associate Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Wayne Rosamond

Wayne D. Rosamond, PhD
Program Leader
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

June Stevens

June Stevens, PhD
Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology
Chair of the Department of Nutrition
Research Areas: Cardiovascular disease

Eric Whitsel

Eric A. Whitsel, MD, MPH
Research Associate Professor
Research interests: Cardiovascular disease

Alumni of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology program take a variety of professional positions in the academic, governmental and private sectors. These include:

  • Product Analyst, A4 Health Systems
  • Research Associate, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health
  • Associate Professor, Colorado State University, Department of Health and Exercise Science
  • Senior Statistician, Duke Clinical Research Institute
  • Assistant Research Professor, Duke University, Duke Center for Aging
  • Internal Medicine Resident, Duke University
  • Therapeutic Epidemiologist, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease, GlaxoSmithKline, Inc.
  • Epidemiology Manager, Worldwide Epidemiology, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Statistical Analyst, Houston Center for Quality and Care and Utilization Studies
  • Assistant Professor, Medical University of South Carolina
  • Assistant Professor, North Carolina Central University, Department of Health Education
  • Assistant Professor, Northwestern University, Department of Preventive Medicine
  • Research and Publications Coordinator, Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute
  • Research Scientist, Pediatric Research and Development, Abbott Laboratories, Inc.
  • Research Scientist, Rho Federal Systems Division, Inc.
  • Instructor, Skagit Valley Community College, Department of Social Sciences
  • Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Department of Epidemiology
  • Post-doctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina, Department of Epidemiology
  • Research Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Department of Epidemiology
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina, School of Medicine
  • Associate Professor, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics,
  • Epidemiologist, U. S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
Currently, the Cardiovascular (CV) Epidemiology Program is home to 15 students, who come to this program from diverse backgrounds. In addition to the coursework indicated by their degree program, students participate in multiple activities organized by the CV Epidemiology Program, including a Peer-Led Workshop, Journal Club, and the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Seminar. Students can choose to conduct their dissertation research within a broad scope of research interests represented by the CV Epidemiology faculty and collaborators. Additionally, students have the opportunity to work with CV Epidemiology faculty members as Graduate Research Assistants. Pre-doctoral students are encouraged to submit abstracts to national meetings and are mentored in publishing their work.

Following are representative examples of doctoral dissertation research topics developed by CV Epidemiology students:

  • Community patterns of acute myocardial infarction and surviva
  • Choline/Betaine habitual intake and incident coronary heart disease in women
  • Association of obstructive airway disease and lung function with incident heart failure
  • Genotype-by-smoking interaction and the risk of atherosclerosis and its clinical sequelae
  • The association of overweight and obesity with arterial elasticity
  • Patterns of medical care after a myocardial infarction

The CV Epidemiology Program supports four postdoctoral fellows each year. Fellows are encouraged to submit multiple publications, engage in collaborative work, and submit applications for funding.

For further inquiries, please contact Crystal Daniel


The goal of the Cardiovascular (CV) Epidemiology program is to train public health scientists and innovative investigators in this field of chronic disease epidemiology.  The career and educational objectives of the program seek to provide the competencies needed for the successful practice of modern epidemiology in the field of cardiovascular health, and to enable program graduates to meet the challenges of this rapidly changing field.  The programmatic orientation reflects a dual training path: methodologic – established by the Department’s core methods curriculum – and an interdisciplinary perspective of the epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases.  The latter is a rapidly evolving synthesis of molecular, environmental, social and behavioral sciences, requiring an increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary training and the need for a fluid curriculum reflective of innovations in the field.  To meet its training objectives the program emphasizes two areas of integration, both at the convergence of diverse disciplines: etiologic investigation and translational, public health oriented research.

Learning Objectives

In the course of completion of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology doctoral program the student will:

  • Achieve the following competencies:
    • Be familiar with the epidemiology of the various manifestations of cardiovascular disease
    • Be knowledgeable of the literature in the field of cardiovascular disease epidemiology and its sources, and be able to review it critically
    • Apply demographic, social, and epidemiologic measurement and analysis techniques to characterize the distribution and community burden of CV health issues
    • Critically analyze the conceptual and historical frameworks used to formulate CV study hypotheses and intervention strategies
    • Identify and characterize the major national and international CV health issues, have an understanding of the historical evolution of cardiovascular disease in human societies, and their current, and predicted impact on public health
    • Understand the key biologic, behavioral, cultural, and economic determinants of the main CV health issues in the U.S.
    • Identify key public health issues and policies associated with population groups at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases
    • Understand the interplay of the social and physical environment with genetic susceptibility in the origin, distribution, and control of selected CV health issues
  • Acquire practical experience in the design and implementation of epidemiologic studies of CV health issues, including data collection, quality assurance, and study management
  • Participate with faculty and fellow students in the oral and written communication of research findings, through publications and presentations at national scientific meetings
  • Become familiar with the key concepts and competencies required for the ethical conduct of research
  • Participate with faculty and fellow students in the development of a research proposal on a CV health issue

Methods for Meeting the Learning Objectives

The CV epidemiology program learning objectives are implemented through formal courses, a weekly seminar series, research practicum opportunities, mentored research, attendance at regional and national scientific meetings, and individual advising by one or more program faculty.  To facilitate communications and a participatory management of the program, students, staff, and faculty of the CV epidemiology program meet at least once each semester as a group. Meetings of the CV program faculty and staff are scheduled separately.


The following requirements and recommendations apply to all pre-doctoral students in the CV epidemiology program. Requests for exemptions and resolution of scheduling conflicts should be addressed with the advisor, and with the program area director if necessary.

Curricular Activities Required of Students in the CV Program Area

EPID 735
EPID 737
EPID 889
EPID 897
EPID 992
EPID 994
CV Epidemiology
Advanced CV Epidemiology
Topics in Cardiovascular Epidemiology (Offered each semestediv. Topics vary)
Biomarkers in Epidemiology Research
CV Epidemiology Seminar
Master’s Paper
Qualifying Doctoral Examination
Doctoral Dissertation



Curricular Activities Recommended of Students in the CV Program Area

EPID 733
EPID 743
EPID 810
Clinical Trials
Genetic Epidemiology
Physical Activity, Epid & Public Health
Introduction to Survival Analysis
Categorical Data Analysis
Advanced Survey Sampling Methods
Obesity Epidemiology
Physiology/Pathophysiology of Chronic Diseases
A practical research experience focused on study implementation 

Goal Setting (Required)

Each student in the program and his/her advisor identify (and record) a set of goals at the beginning of each semester, and consult these as reference points at periodic intervals.  Toward the end of the spring semester of each year students record the degree to which their goals have been met during the prior to semesters and share this information with their advisor(s) and the program director.

Monitoring of Achievement of the Learning Objectives (Recommended)

Frequent meetings of the student and the advisor serve as the principal mechanism to gauge the progress of individual students, and to provide appropriate feed-back. Students also receive feed-back from peers, faculty, and research staff in the course of their seminar presentations, their participation in research teams, and from course-related class projects. 

Evaluation (Required)

Each student provides an anonymous, written evaluation of the training experience and of their mentor(s) at the end of the spring semester. The aggregate results from this evaluation are discussed by the faculty and serve as the basis for adjustment to the learning objectives and program activities, and other corrective actions as applicable. A summary of the evaluations is shared with the students and fellows in the program.

Participatory Learning and Professionalizing Activities (Recommended)

Emphasis is placed on providing CV Epidemiology students with diverse opportunities for active involvement and participation in research at levels of field work, data collection, analysis, and publication. It is our goal to maintain a range of such opportunities in CV epidemiology to make the practice of research an integral part of this program.  Students are encouraged to present research findings at national meetings, including, but not limited to, the American Heart Association Council on Epidemiology Conference.

CV Program Seminar (Required)

Weekly seminars in cardiovascular epidemiology take place on a regular schedule, as a forum for trainees, fellows, faculty, and the scientists who collaborate with them to present ongoing research in an environment that promotes discussion and active learning. The speakers are selected by a panel of seminar coordinators constituted by a pre-doctoral and a post-doctoral fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology, with consultation and mentoring by the faculty. Speakers and topics are selected to provide for breadth of disciplines, perspectives and research applications.
NIH NRSA Institutional Training Grants
The purpose of the NIH National Research Service Awards is to provide eligible institutions with the means to support individuals, selected by the institution, who are training for careers in specified areas of biomedical and behavioral research. Four pre- and three post-doctoral trainees are supported by the program, with a strong emphasis on recruitment of minorities underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. The NRSA grants provide funds applicable to tuition, fees, health insurance and living expenses to graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

In 1975, the Department of Epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health established the Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology program. The sixth 5-year cycle of NRSA-NHLBI support for this training program began on June 1, 2002. The goal of the program continues to be the training of innovative, and effective researchers in the field of CVD epidemiology.

The training program has developed a mix of learning opportunities for trainees, based on the continuous renewal of its research in CVD, an interdisciplinary approach and multi-institutional ties, and the commitment to prepare individuals for careers based on innovative and independent research in the epidemiology of CVD.

Seven areas of emphasis exist at present:

  • Applied training in the principles and tools of epidemiologic research
  • Non-invasive imaging in the study of atherosclerosis and its risk factors (b-mode imaging of superficial arteries), magnetic resonance imaging in the study of cerebrovascular diseases (cerebral MRI); and coronary artery calcification (CT scans)
  • Community surveillance of cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases, health care practices, and socio-environmental factors
  • Ethnicity and disease
  • Familial, genetic and non-genetic determinants of CVD and of their risk factors
  • Study of chronic inflammation/infection in atherosclerosis and its sequelae
  • Life Course socio-economic status and cardiovascular health
  • The training program currently includes four pre-doctoral and four post-doctoral fellows. NRSA minority fellowships are also available.

National Meetings: In addition to attendance of one scientific meeting per year supported by the Training Grant, trainees are encouraged, and supported by faculty to submit abstracts to cardiovascular epidemiology meetings (e.g., scientific sessions of the American Heart Association, and the Society of Epidemiologic Research). Provided with this range of data sources and ongoing research, trainees are able to make presentations at national meetings, be exposed to work in progress by other scientists in the field, and make professional contacts.

Research Opportunities: Trainees are encouraged as early as possible to assume lead roles in a research project, with support from their advisors. The program provides a considerable number and diversity of research opportunities to trainees. A list of currently active studies is shown below. Some are studies that have completed data collection and are at the stage of statistical analysis and publication; others maintain ongoing data collection activities in the field (in addition to analyses and publication activities). All are available and open to trainees; see contact persons on reverse.

For more information about the NRSA Institutional Grant, you can contact Nancy Colvin, Department of Epidemiology Registrar.

NIH NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships for Minority Students
These fellowships will provide up to five years of support for research training leading to the Ph.D. or equivalent research degree; the combined M.D./Ph.D. degree; or other combined professional doctorate/research Ph.D. degrees in the biomedical or behavioral sciences. The intent of the Minority Predoctoral Fellowship Program is to encourage students from minority groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences to seek graduate degrees and thus further the goal of increasing the number of minority scientists who are prepared to pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral research. Application receipt deadlines are May 1 and November 15. This fellowship provides for an annual stipend to help meet the fellow’s living expenses; a tuition and fee allowance in accordance with NIH policy; and and annual institutional allowance which may be used for travel to scientific meetings, etc. The Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology program currently has one student receiving training support as an NRSA Fellow . If you would like more information, you can contact:

Phyllis Johnson
Nancy Colvin

Graduate Student Research Assistantships
Research assistantships (RAs) offer students an opportunity to gain research-related experience, develop close working relationships with faculty, and sometimes earn CO-authorship on peer-reviewed publications. Information on the type of assistantships available and how to locate them is available from Student Services. A small number of RA positions is typically available in CVD Epidemiology. Students interested in an assistantship should submit an application form (available from Student Services), and should discuss this interest with their advisors.