Overview

Cardiovascular (CV) epidemiology is an interdisciplinary field of work.  Our goal is to advance population wellness and health equity through innovative and impactful research in the field of cardiovascular epidemiology, and to train qualified scientists for a diverse and multidisciplinary workforce capable of addressing local, national, and global challenges in cardiovascular health.  We aim to train epidemiologists grounded in theory and in substantive knowledge, proficient in research methodology and implementation, and equipped to contribute new knowledge on the complex questions of cardiovascular health of populations. We seek to train through participatory learning and to create opportunities for trainees to collaborate in multidisciplinary research with investigators locally, and nationally.

Trainees in CV Epidemiology are encouraged to assume lead roles in a research project as early as possible, with support from their mentors. The program provides a considerable number and diversity of research opportunities to trainees. 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 (as well as analyses and publications), and still others are in development phases. All are available and open to trainees. Trainees are encouraged to submit abstracts to national meetings to present their own work, be exposed to work in progress by other scientists in the field, and to make professional contacts.

Program Objectives

  1. Be familiar with the epidemiology of the various manifestations of cardiovascular disease.
  2. Be knowledgeable of the literature in the field of CVD epidemiology and its sources, and be able to review it critically.
  3. Understand the interplay of the social and physical environment with genetic susceptibility in the origin distribution and control of selected CV health issues.
  4. Critically analyze the conceptual and historical frameworks used to formulate CV study hypotheses and intervention strategies.
  5. Identify and characterize the major national and international CV health issues, understand the historical evolution of CVD in human societies and their current and predicted impact on public health.
  6. Understand the key biologic, behavioral, cultural and economic determinants of the main CV health issues in the US.
  7. Identify key public health issues and policies associated with population groups at increased risk of CVD.
  8. Apply demographic, social, and ‘omics measurements and epidemiologic analysis techniques to characterize the distribution and community burden of CV health issues.
  9. Acquire practical experience in the design and implementation of epidemiologic studies of CV health issues, including data collection, quality assurance and study management.
  10. Participate with faculty and fellow students in the oral and written communication of research findings through publications and presentations at national scientific meetings.
  11. Become familiar with the key concepts and competencies required for the ethical conduct of research.
  12. Develop and strengthen grant-writing skills.
  13. Develop independence as a scholar and epidemiology practitioner focused on CV health

Program Courses

Related Courses

  • EPID 742: Integrating Biomarkers in Population-Based Research (Stephanie Engel)
  • EPID 743: Genetic Epidemiology (Kari North)
  • EPID 813: Nutritional epidemiology (Faculty)
  • EPID 814: Obesity Epidemiology (June Stevens)
  • EPID 992: Master’s Paper (Faculty)
  • EPID 994: Doctoral Dissertation (Faculty)

Core Faculty – Research Projects

Dr. Christy Avery is an associate professor of epidemiology. As a cardiovascular disease (CVD) epidemiologist, her research interests span genomics, gene-environment interaction, and translation-oriented methods applicable to CVD prevention. Examples of Dr. Avery’s research include studies examining pleiotropy in complex traits, eicosanoid inflammatory markers on type 2 diabetes and cardiometabolic disease, metabolomic correlates of cardiovascular disease, and the role of genomics in causal inference. Other areas of active research include the development and application of novel methods to inform understanding of the burden of CVD.

Dr. Sara Jones Berkeley is an assistant professor of epidemiology. Her interests are in clinical and applied research to improve acute and post-acute stroke care, management of chronic conditions, and investigating risk factors for cognitive decline.

Dr. Kelly Evenson is a professor of epidemiology. Her research focuses on physical activity and sedentary behavior, with specific interests in measurement, surveillance, interventions, and associations with outcomes. She has experience with diverse populations including youth, adults, older adults, and pregnant and postpartum women.

Dr. Nora Franceschini is a professor of epidemiology. She is a board-certified nephrologist and a cardiovascular/genetic epidemiologist. Her research interests are chronic kidney disease and hypertension in global populations, women’s health, and genetics. Her laboratory uses novel genetic/omics approaches to uncover biological insights into diseases and to translate findings to public health. She is the co-founder of the COGENT-Kidney Consortium, an international collaboration for kidney research in populations underrepresented in genomic research. Additional areas of active research are subclinical atherosclerosis and cardiovascular outcomes.

Dr. Misa Graf is an assistant professor in epidemiology. Her research interests are in the genetics of obesity and cardiovascular disease risk traits with an overarching goal of integrating our understanding of both genetic and environmental risk factors for disease, particularly among minority populations.

Dr. Gerardo Heiss, professor of epidemiology, is a cardiovascular disease epidemiologist who admits to having diverse research interests. These include cognitive aging and the preservation of cognitive function, social determinants of health, subclinical cardiovascular disease, women’s health, vascular aging, and population health measures.

Dr. Heather Highland is an assistant professor of epidemiology. As a genetic epidemiologist with a focus on diabetes related traits, adiposity and their relationship to cardiovascular disease. This includes utilizing methods to assess pleiotropy, as well as integrating multiple types of omics data. I strive towards improved ancestral diversity in all aspects of research.

Dr. Laura Loehr: Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC); Atrial Fibrillation Study; Hispanic Community Health Study-Study of Latinos.

Dr. Anna Kucharska-Newton is a cardiovascular epidemiologist with interests in social determinants of health, subclinical cardiovascular disease, health services research especially in the context of heart failure, and vascular aging, the latter a topic which taps into her training as a connective tissue biochemist. Dr. Kucharska-Newton is an investigator with the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC); Comprehensive Post-Acute Stroke Services (COMPASS) study; and the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI).

Dr. Kari North is a professor of epidemiology and an expert in the molecular epidemiology of complex traits. She leads multiple large-scale genetic studies in collaboration with multiple international genetic consortia. At UNC, Dr. North leads the Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) Genetic Epidemiology group, whose research takes place at the intersection of human genetics, epidemiologic methodology, statistical techniques, and interdisciplinary translational research. Dr. North and her team are performing GWAS and whole genome sequencing studies, as well as metabolomics, methylation and gene expression studies, primarily in populations most burdened by CVD. This comprehensive systems biology approach will lead to a more complete understanding of the pathogenesis of disease. She also has been involved in key advisory roles at the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health, as a member of an expert panel of the proper identification of obesity and CVD among racially and ethnically diverse populations and as Chair of the CHSA study section, respectively. Importantly, her long-term research has demonstrated a National and International commitment to the inclusion of ancestrally diverse study participants in genomics research.

Dr. Wayne Rosamond is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UNC.  He is an investigator and teacher in cardiovascular epidemiology with expertise in community-based surveillance studies, pragmatic clinical trials, and quality of care research. His specific research interests include studies on population trends in and risk factors for incidence of myocardial infarction, heart failure, venous thromboembolism and stroke.  He is also involved in studies of emergency medical systems response to acute stroke and cardiac symptoms, include drone delivery of automated external defibrillators. Dr. Rosamond is Director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology NRSA-NIH T32 training grant at UNC.

Dr. Eric Whitsel is an associate professor of epidemiology and medicine, UNC PI of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), and Biology Core PI of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), Waves IV-VI. Dr. Whitsel conducts research at the junction of genetic, environmental, and cardiovascular epidemiology.  It includes studies of the putative epigenetic, clonal hematopoietic, and electrocardiographic signatures of ambient air pollution, aircraft noise, and radiation that are designed to provide insight into potential mechanisms of cardiovascular disease and approaches to its prevention.

Dr. Kristin Young: Dr. Young is an assistant professor of epidemiology. Her research focuses on genetic and environmental contributors to health disparities of common complex diseases across the life course in diverse populations.

Selected Collaborative Groups at UNC

Carolina Population Center

Schools and Departments