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2024 Top Research Awards Announced

May 23, 2024

Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) Associate Dean of Research Melinda Irwin Wednesday announced the recipients of this year’s top research awards.

“Congratulations to the YSPH faculty who were awarded YSPH Research Prizes for manuscripts published in 2023,” said Irwin, Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology (Chronic Diseases). “YSPH faculty published more than 1,100 papers in 2023, and these six papers were recognized for their novel approaches and significant findings, focused on critically important public health issues (e.g., opioid use disorder, environmental carcinogens, breastfeeding) using novel methods and approaches such as electronic medical record data of health outcomes linked to residential addresses’ drinking water supplies and incubating colorectal cancer organoids with PFAS resulting in expression of metastasis-related proteins. “

Here is a list of this year’s award winners:

YSPH Early Career Investigator Research Prize

Zeyan Liew

Liew, Z., Meng, Q., Yan, Q., Schullehner, J., Hansen, B., Kristiansen, S. M., Voutchkova, D. D., Olsen, J., Ersbøll, A. K., Ketzel, M., Raaschou-Nielsen, O., & Ritz, B. R. (2023). Association Between Estimated Geocoded Residential Maternal Exposure to Lithium in Drinking Water and Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Offspring in Denmark. JAMA Pediatrics.

Dr. Liew and his team conducted a nationwide nested case-control study using medical records to capture ASD diagnoses in Denmark, and then created a model to estimate lithium levels in drinking water supplies linked to every residential address in Denmark. They are the first to report a novel association between maternal exposure to lithium in drinking water and child ASD. The study findings have been widely reported in the media, including the New York Times, CNN, and NBC.

YSPH Investigator Research Prize

Yize Zhao

Yize Zhao, Changgee Chang, Jingwen Zhang & Zhengwu Zhang. Genetic Underpinnings of Brain Structural Connectome for Young Adults. Journal of the American Statistical Association.

With the primary goal of her paper to uncover genetic underpinnings to brain structural connectome variations among young adult populations, Dr. Zhao developed an innovative Bayesian analytical framework and identified genetic biomarkers and validated the reliability of these scientific findings with an external database. The developed methods are readily applicable for use in biobanks and brain imaging genetic landmark studies, which offers a great potential for understanding the genetic bases and directing intervention targets for neurological and psychiatric research for public health outcomes.

YSPH Team Science Prize

Robert Heimer and Lauretta Grau from YSPH

Receipt of opioid use disorder treatments prior to fatal overdoses and comparison to no treatment in Connecticut, 2016–17. Heimer R, Black AC, Lin H, Grau LE, Fiellin DA, Howell BA, Hawk K, D’Onofrio G, Becker WC. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Dr. Heimer and team compiled and merged state agency data on opioid overdose deaths and exposures to opioid use disorder treatment to determine incidence rates following exposure to different treatment modalities. Exposure to treatment reduced the relative risk by 38% compared to non-medication treatment. These findings have been presented to statewide advisory boards, and in February Dr. Heimer presented the results at the federal level to an interagency group convened by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, with the goal of expanding access to OUD treatment.

YSPH Team Science Prize

Caroline Johnson and other YSPH faculty members Krystal Pollitt and Lingeng Lu

Zheng, J., Sun, B., Berardi, D., Lu, L., Yan, H., Zheng, S., Aladelokun, O., Xie, Y., Cai, Y., Godri Pollitt, K. J., Khan, S. A., & Johnson, C. H. (2023). Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid and Perfluorooctanoic Acid Promote Migration of Three-Dimensional Colorectal Cancer Spheroids. Environmental Science & Technology.

PFAS are widespread environmental contaminants that accumulate in the environment and body, and are found in man-made products such as cosmetics, cookware, food packaging, and carpets. Even though PFAS have been linked to cancer, and recently classified as Group 1 carcinogens, there has been limited research on the effects of these chemicals in colorectal cancer (CRC). Dr. Caroline Johnson and her team found that when CRC human organoids are incubated with occupational exposure levels of PFOS, they exhibit increased motility and expression of metastasis-related proteins. Their study was the first to show that PFAS can elicit a metastatic phenotype in CRC cells when PFAS were at levels comparable to those seen in the blood of those occupationally exposed, such as firefighters.

YSPH Impact Research Prize

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, Cecília Tomori, Sonia Hernández-Cordero, Phillip Baker, Aluisio J D Barros, France Bégin, Donna J Chapman, Laurence M Grummer-Strawn, David McCoy, Purnima Menon, Paulo Augusto Ribeiro Neves, Ellen Piwoz, Nigel Rollins, Cesar G Victora, Linda Richter, on behalf of the 2023 Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group* Breastfeeding: crucially important, but increasingly challenged in a market-driven world. Lancet.

This article has been cited over 140 times since it was published in February 2023. The article involved scholars from around the world working together for over two years updating the evidence on breastfeeding benefits, and evidence-based approaches to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding on a large scale, heavily considering the economic, social, political, and commercial determinants of infant feeding. The article is based on a strong and innovative conceptual framework and is informed by original data analyses of large epidemiological studies, as well as eight systematic reviews and one meta-analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization. This work is already having a strong impact in reshaping breastfeeding initiatives, policies, and programs across the globe.

YSPH Impact Research Prize

David Paltiel and Gregg Gonsalves

Paltiel AD, Ahmed AR, Jin EY, McNamara M, Freedberg KA, Neilan AM, and Gonsalves GS. Increased HIV transmissions with reduced insurance coverage for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis: Potential consequences of Braidwood Management v. Becerra. Open Forum Infectious Diseases

This study evaluates the potential public health consequences of a recent U.S. federal court ruling that deemed it unconstitutional for the Affordable Care Act to require employers to cover HIV prevention with pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). The authors found that this ruling could result in more than 2,000 preventable HIV infections in the coming year alone. In the 24 hours following publication, the paper achieved an Altimetric score of 149. It received widespread national attention, including coverage in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the American Journal of Managed Care. The paper was selected as a Best of 2023 by the editors-in-chief of the journals of the Infectious Disease Society of America. Their paper was the central analytic element of several friend-of-the-court (amicus) briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, urging reversal of the lower court ruling, including the HIV Medicine Association and National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, the American Public Health Association, the Yale Law School, and others.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on May 23, 2024