Faculty and Staff Update – Nov 2022


Message from the Chair

Robert Wright, MD, MPH

It was a busy summer, and a lot has happened in the last three months (I now have a son-in-law for example!). It was wonderful to see everyone at the July 29th summer outing at Chelsea Piers. It had been a long time since we have been able to gather socially. Particularly because this was a family event, I think it was my favorite department gathering this year.

We had a successful special pilot program in partnership with the Claude D. Pepper Older American’s Independence Center at Icahn Mount Sinai on environment and aging and hope this leads to more collaborations in the future. We are also partnering with CUNY on a Climate and Health Pilot grant program due in December. Please see Roz Paupaw if you have questions.

We held our the 5th NYC Exposome Symposium, with a focus on “Health Equity and the Exposome: Understanding the Hidden Ways Environment Drives Health.” Plans are in the works to partner with Meharry Medical College for the 2023 symposium. On July 13-15, we hosted the first in-person NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers Meeting since 2019. Both events were resounding successes, and many thanks to Carla Azar, Aviad Yitshak-Sade, Allison Devia, Roz Paupaw, Andrea King-Vilaro and Hannah Choi (and many others) for their work in planning and managing these events. 

As things begin to look a little more normal with regards to COVID, we had our first team building retreat in October and are planning our first holiday party since 2019 for December 2nd. Please hold the date, and I hope to see you there!


Robert O. Wright, MD, MPH
Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chair
Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health
Co-Director, Institute for Exposomics and Environmental Health



The Language of Science and the Science of Language: Unseen Barriers in Research by Robert Wright, MD, MPH

An often forgotten aspect of science is communication. If a research finding is important, we should communicate its meaning and value to others in easy-to-understand terms. We often think about how scientists talk to the public, but what about how scientists talk to each other? The general public may not realize that there is no uniform terminology that scientists use to communicate with each other.  Read the blog.

Stay Informed

Postdoc Leadership Committee Update

The Postdoc Leadership Committee (PLC), now in its fourth year, aims to build community for EMPH postdoctoral trainees by organizing social events, a journal club, academic seminars, and peer-learning sessions. 2022-23 PLC members are Cecilia Alcala, PhD; Shoshannah Eggers, PhD; Mike He, PhD; and Vishal Midya, PhD. 

The bimonthly “Coffee & Coding” series that began last year continues to expand to topics such as personal website development, writing grant applications, and career development. The monthly journal clubs will reconvene for the first time in person this fall.  An October workshop led by Allan Just, PhD, was enthusiastically attended by many postdocs, and the PLC would welcome opportunities to work with faculty interested in developing their own workshops. 

Laura McGuinn’s Farewell party
Allan Just leads a workshop

A special thanks to Dr. Allan Just for his leadership. The PLC would also like to thank past PLC members: Corina Lesseur, Yuri Levin-Schwartz, Laura McGuinn, Daniel Carrion, Kirtan Kaur, and Xueying Zhang.

Residents’ Corner

Betty Kolod, MD, MPH, General Preventive Medicine Residency Associate Program Director, organized a walking tour of East Harlem cultural sites and a meet and greet with staff at City Council Member Diana Ayala’s office for GPM residents. They also visited the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s East Harlem Neighborhood Health Action Center. Kristin Oliver, MD, MPH is Residency Program Director.

New residents are:

Laura Sirbu, MD, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Internal Medicine); University of Maryland School of Medicine

Elizabeth de la Rosa, MD, Texas Tech University HSC El Paso (Surgery-General)
University of Texas Medical Branch School of Medicine

Hans Max Huber, MD, MSH-Surgery Categorical – Mount Sinai Health System
Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University

Youth Symposium on Environmental and Climate Justice
This symposium, organized by the New York State Children’s Environmental Health Centers, was held on October 12 in honor of Children’s Environmental Health Day. The youth-led panel explored how youth leaders are using community science to inspire change for healthier, more just communities.

Pilot Project Opportunities

Climate and Health Call for Submissions (due Dec 16) – We are excited to announce a new partnership between several CUNY Colleges and Mount Sinai, developed by the Mount Sinai Center on Health and Environment Across the LifeSpan (HEALS) and the City University of New York to fund transdisciplinary pilot grants tackling topics on “Climate Change and Health”. The goal is to bring together researchers across sponsoring institutions to create new, transdisciplinary partnerships. Learn more.

General Environmental Health Call for Submissions (due Dec 16) – The Mount Sinai Center on Health and Environment Across the LifeSpan (HEALS) announces its 14th call for pilot grant proposals. The Center’s mission is to increase the Environmental Health (EH) research portfolio at Mount Sinai and to bring non-EH researchers into the field through new transdisciplinary collaborations. Learn more.

NY/NJ ERC Research Studies in Occupational Safety and Health (due Feb 5) – The New York and New Jersey NIOSH Education and Research Center (ERC), the multi-institutional and federally supported training project in occupational health and safety for EPA Region II (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), announces a funding opportunity through its Pilot Projects Research Training Program (PPRTP). Learn more.

Upcoming Events

Access the EMPH Calendar

Recent Grants/Contacts

WTC Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has awarded new funding for the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Clinical Center of Excellence at the Icahn School of Medicine’s Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health.

Under this new contract, which will fund up to $340 million over eight years, our WTC Health Program will continue to provide— at no cost—medical monitoring, treatment, and case management services for responders who participated in the rescue, recovery, debris clean-up, and related support services following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Our WTC Health Program, a component of the Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health, is the largest such center in the country and proudly cares for more than 25,000 responders at its Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffern, and Yonkers, New York, locations. Learn more.

National Institutes of Health Award to Accelerate Development of New Treatments
Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH

A five-year, $55.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Program has been awarded to support the work of ConduITS, the Institute for Translational Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is one of 63 sites nationwide in the Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) Program. The grant will enable Mount Sinai to harness its unique strengths in translational research informatics, digital health, and data science to accelerate the translation of research into discoveries that lead to better health outcomes for a diverse patient population across the lifespan. In particular, it will enable ConduITs to evolve its approach to precision medicine to include a precision public health framework that integrates genomics with key public health domains such as environmental health, social determinants of health, and big-data science to address health equity challenges.

Mount Sinai Researchers Awarded $2.4 Million Grant From CDC to Support Aging 9/11 Rescue and Recovery Workers
Michael Crane, MD, MPH

As the first responders to the 9/11 attacks grow older, Mount Sinai’s nationally lauded experts in aging have received a $2.4 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study how best to care for them into old age. Read more.

Pandemic preparedness in schools: A community based approach for sentinel surveillance
Nicholas Defelice, PhD

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted governments to implement a range of public health measures, including school closures, to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. To assess the trade-off of opening schools and the potential for increased transmission for future pandemic preparedness, we will build models to incorporate school-level infection monitoring data along with community-level testing data, vaccination data, immunological and serological indicators, in addition to built environment indicators of school settings. These models will allows us to determine associations between community-level transmission rates and test positivity rates within schools, develop an epidemiological disease transmission model that identifies how to cost-effectively collect sentinel school surveillance data, and identify policy trigger points to predict when interventions should be implemented in schools to prevent disease transmission.

Early-life metal exposures and child antibody response to vaccination
Elena Colicino, PhD        

The immune system begins to develop in utero and, as children age and experience infections and vaccinations, an ever-expanding repertoire of antibodies become part of their lifelong immune memory. Yet research on child immune function and its response to immunotoxic metal exposures has been largely overlooked. We will assess child immune function by measuring antibody levels at different developmental stages to determine the association between exposure to individual metals and metal mixtures. We aim to lead to interventions that may help prevent lifelong immune system dysregulation and related adverse health consequences.

Perfluoroalkyl substances and incident type 2 diabetes in a multi-ethnic population: A metabolome-genome investigation
Damaskini Valvi, MD, PhD, MPH

Growing experimental evidence shows that exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, promote Type 2 diabetes development, likely in synergy with known risk factors such as genetic variations. PFAS are persistent chemicals that perturb metabolism. This study will provide the first integrated metabolome–genome approach to characterize the associations between PFAS concentrations in prediagnostic blood samples and incident Type 2 diabetes risk. In contrast to prior studies, we will incorporate a wide suite of legacy and emerging PFAS, exposure-mixture effects, and gene–environment interactions by leveraging state-of-the-art metabolome–genome approaches and a rigorous discovery–replication design.

An Exposomic Approach Looking at the Effect of Climate and Air Pollutant Mixtures on Stroke: A National Study Across Israel
Maayan Yitshak-Sade, PhD; Itai Kloog, PhD

Stroke is the second leading cause of death globally, and a major cause of long-term disability. This proposed research will be the first nationwide study to analyze stroke risk based on a combined effect of numerous highly spatiotemporally resolved air pollutants and climatic exposures. As climate changes, exposures to both extreme temperatures and air pollution are expected to increase. This is especially relevant in Israel, a country with a variety of climate regions, some featured with extreme heat and humidity conditions.

Appointments, Recognitions and Promotions

Aderonke (Ronke) Akinkugbe, BDS, MPH, PhD, one of three faculty joining Icahn Mount Sinai through its Biomedical Laureate Program, joined the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health as Associate Professor. Previously at Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Akinkugbe’s research broadly examines how environmental factors affect oral diseases as well as modifiable risk factors to improve population health outcomes. More specifically, she explores psychosocial and environmental determinants of poor oral and systemic health outcomes across the lifecourse, including the role of prenatal exposures on children’s oral health. Learn more. 

John Meyer, MD, MPH, has been appointed Director of the EMPH Division of Occupational Medicine. He served as interim director since 2019, and we are incredibly happy he will continue in this role.  Dr. Meyer is also Director of the NIOSH-funded New York-New Jersey Education and Research Center (NYNJ ERC) as well the Occupational Medicine Residency Program.  He is the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, (founded by Dr. Irving Selikoff of Mount Sinai) and serves as a Director of the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

Additional Promotions: Terry Thompson, DHA, MPH, a recent EMPH postdoctoral fellow, was promoted to Assistant Professor, and Xueying Zhang, PhD, MS, also a recent EMPH postdoctoral fellow, was promoted to Instructor.

Mount Sinai Innovation Awards

Researchers from throughout the Mount Sinai Health System were honored for advances in biomedical research, technology, and medicine at the eighth annual Mount Sinai Innovation Awards ceremony, hosted by Mount Sinai Innovation Partners (MSIP) on October 24.

Manish Arora, PhD, Christine Austin, PhD, and Paul Curtin, PhD, were presented with the Transaction of the Year Award, recognizing advanced and novel technologies that achieved licensing for commercial use. LinusBio, founded by Arora, Austin and Curtin, has been selected as the winner of the award for its novel approach in developing and commercializing precision exposome sequencing for complex diseases, as well as the company’s subsequent milestones, including U.S. FDA Breakthrough Device designation for the StrandDx-ASD platform.

Additionally, Wontak Han, PhD, an EMPH postdoctoral fellow, was awarded a Trainee Innovation Award at the ceremony for his project “Identifying gut microbiome metagenomic features to develop a clinical prediction tool for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).” Ryan Walker, PhD, serves as his mentor, and Jeremiah Faith, PhD, and Maia Kayal, PhD, are additional collaborators. Many clinical risk factors and genetic risk variants have been linked to IBD risk and, more recently, perturbations to the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) have been shown play a strong role in the pathogenesis on IBD. There are many publicly available metagenome sequencing data sets related to IBD, however, a cost-effective and clinically useful model to predict IBD has not to be developed. In this project, Dr. Han aims to develop and validate a screening model of IBD with biomarker candidates from publicly available datasets including microbial and clinical information.

Winston Kwa, MD, MPH, Medical Director for the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health, Mid-Hudson Valley, is a recipient of the 2022 Cullman Family Award for Excellence in Provider Communication. Dr. Kwa has received this recognition each year since 2020. Award recipients were ranked in the top one percent nationally in provider communication for 2021 as measured by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CG CAHPS) patient experience survey.

Sadjad Fakouri Baygi, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, received the Mark P. Styczynski Early Career Award in Computational Metabolomics from Metabolomics Association of North America (MANA) for his accomplishments in the computational metabolomics field.

Anti-Racism, Intersectionality, Diversity & Equity (AIDE) Committee

All faculty, staff, and trainees are invited to join the AIDE committee that meets monthly to review, evaluate, and advance the department’s work in anti-racism. The Committee aims to have strong representation from across the department and divisions. AIDE activities were highlighted at the October Team Building

Retreat (departmental survey, affinity group trainings, EARTH Seminar series, and community outreach initiatives). The AIDE Leadership Team is comprised of Sarah Evans, PhD, MPH; Malika Garg, MD, MS; Maida Galvez, MD, MPH; and Terry Thompson, DHA, MPH. Connect with any Committee Members to learn how to get involved.

Wellness and Community

Team Building Retreat at Wave Hill
The retreat at Wave Hill on October 21 brought together faculty and trainees from across the department. Many colleagues met for the first time in person, and it was an opportunity to learn about research, training, and clinical activities across divisions. A retreat summary report and photos are available on Microsoft Teams.

Wellness Walks

Wellness walk in the Conservatory Garden, November 2, 2022

Connect with EMPH colleagues on the first Wednesday of each month at 12pm for a wellness activity. If you would like to join the wellness committee or suggest activities, please contact Drs. Megan Horton or Elizabeth Garland.

EMPH Running Group

If you are interested in some cold weather group runs in Central Park, we are working out a schedule now, so contact Carla Azar for details. You can also join the EMPH Strava Club.

Yuri Levin-Schwartz, PhD, a former EMPH post-doctoral fellow and Moira Bixby, MPH, a current biostatistician in the Division of Environmental Epidemiology got hitched this summer! They met at EMPH—maybe you could ‘HHEAR’ them as they became friends, and saw their relationship PROGRESS. They are thankful for the introduction and to all of their friends and colleagues at EMPH! CHEARS!!

Select Publications

“Association of Prenatal Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals With Liver Injury in Children”

The growing incidence of a potentially cancer-causing liver disease in children is associated with prenatal exposure to several endocrine-disrupting chemicals, according to a new study by Vishal Midya, PhD, Elena Colocino, PhD, Dania Valvi, MD, MPH, PhD and other collaborators.

It is the first comprehensive study on the association of prenatal exposure and mixtures of these chemicals and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The researchers used cytokeratin-18 as a novel marker for the disease in children. The findings, reported in JAMA Network Open in July 2022 underline the importance of understanding prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a rapidly growing issue in children that can lead to severe chronic liver disease and liver cancer in adulthood. Read more.

A study on food insecurity and the gut microbiome published in Nutrients by Moira Bixby, MPH, Shoshanna Eggers, PhD, Chris Gennings, PhD, and colleagues at University of Wisconsin was a featured NIEHS Paper of the Month in Environmental Factor in November 2022. Researchers examined food security and nutrient intake using the My Nutrition Index, a measure of the nutritional value of a person’s daily diet. Results showed that among people who were food insecure, a higher nutrition score was associated with a wider range of bacteria.

“Inflammatory Bowel Disease Is Associated With Prediagnostic Perturbances in Metabolic PathwaysLauren Petrick, PhD, joins collaborators in the field Gastroenterology on the first study showing prediagnosis metabolomic changes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease years before diagnosis. The findings were published in Gastroenterology in September 2022 (online, uncorrected proof).

An Innovative Approach to Increase Lead Testing by Pediatricians in Children, United States, 2019–2021” was published in the American Journal of Public Health, September 2022. This study examines the effectiveness of the Increasing Capacity for Blood Lead Testing Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) project launched by AAP and CDC. The study found that two weeks to one month after receiving training, more than 80% of participants reported increased lead testing and practice changes. Perry Sheffield, MD, MPH and Cassandra Bernardi, MPH are members of the Childhood Lead Poisoning ECHO Workgroup that led the study.

Michael Hadley, MD, a cardiologist with a secondary appointment in EMPH, recently published “Protecting Cardiovascular Health from Wildfire Smoke” in Circulation, September 2022. In this publication, authors review the literature linking wildfire smoke exposures to cardiovascular effects and find substantial evidence that short-term exposures are associated with key cardiovascular outcomes, including mortality, hospitalization, and acute coronary syndrome. Dr. Hadley recently became a member of the Mount Sinai Center on Health and Environment Across the LifeSpan (HEALS) and Institute for Exposomics and Environmental Health.

EMPH publications can be accessed through the new Pure Scholars Portal outlined below.


Pure Scholars Portal at Mount Sinai

Scholars Portal, which replaced PlumX in 2022, is a new tool that enables insights into the scholarly expertise and collaborative opportunities that exist within the Mount Sinai research community and beyond. The aim is to organize scholarly products and publications by researchers. The publications list on faculty profiles will pull from this new resource space. Click here to explore the new portal and review your profile.

Resources on Microsoft Teams

An EMPH Faculty and Staff Resources Team has been set up in Microsoft Teams to share internal resources.

Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health
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