Department of

Public Health Seminars:



Jordyn Wallenborn, Fourth Year PhD Student


Genetic Epidemiology

Genetic Epidemiology
The genetic epidemiology program is focused on two major themes: (1) evaluating the role of genetic and environmental contributions in the etiology of chronic mental health and medical conditions and (2) translating the current understanding of the role of genetic and environmental influences on these outcomes into innovative approaches for enhancing the adoption of best practices in the community, clinical practice, and public health.  The program maintains active collaborations with several organizations to accomplish these goals, including: the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, the Center for Society and Health, and the Seventh District Health and Wellness Initiative of Richmond.  Current projects in this research area include:

1- The Developmental Genetic Epidemiology of Smoking Behaviors. The goal of this project is to improve understanding of the genetic and environmental contributions to the development of adolescent and young adult smoking behaviors using extended twin and family samples with previously collected longitudinal data across multiple countries of individuals. This effort represents smoking behavior (ie: initiation, progression, dependence and cessation) data from 16 different samples consisting of over 80,000 adolescent twin pairs.  Results from this work are expected to refine future genetic association studies and public health approaches related to smoking behaviors (Hermine Maes, PI- 5R01DA025109).   

2- The Seventh District Health and Wellness Survey.  The goal of this project is to develop a framework to maintain sustainable community-based public health research within a collaborative partnership (Seventh District Health and Wellness Initiative, HWI) between residents, elected officials, health care providers, and community organizations working to implement health strategies targeting in the East End.   The genetic epidemiology group assists the HWI through its involvement with the Seventh District Health and Wellness Survey. This community-based participatory research project combines the strengths and interests of residents, community organizations, students, researchers to collect and analyze health-related data from east end residents using an online health survey.   Preliminary goals include: (1) assessing the current state of health and access to health care in the east end of Richmond, (2) developing the foundation for long-term health-related collaborations in the east end, and (3) testing the feasibility of using an internet-based survey to complete this project.   Secondary goals include: (1) developing resident capacity to conduct, analyze and disseminate results from epidemiological data and (2) assessing community readiness to receive genetic information in the form of family health history in a public health setting.  Regular updates on this project can be found at

3- The Relationship between New/Emerging Tobacco Use and Tobacco Use Beliefs Across the Lifespan. The goal of this pilot study (Elizabeth Prom-Wormley, PI), funded by the VCU Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, is to estimate the associations between functional beliefs/opinions with single- and poly-tobacco use (defined as the use of more than one tobacco product simultaneously) in adults as well as adolescents. Analyses supporting study goals will be conducted using Wave 1 data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) sample; a longitudinal population-based study of 32,320 adult as well as 13,651 adolescents (ages 12-17) in the United States. Successful completion of this project is expected to produce results that will inform FDA marketing policies to protect the health of US population across all ages. Results will also develop future research in tobacco regulation as well as nicotine dependence.


4- Evaluating the Relationship between Alcohol Use Reduction and Smoking Cessation.  This project is part of an administrative diversity supplement to the parent grant “Gene-Environment Environment Interaction in Adolescent Alcohol Use” (R01AA015416, PI- Danielle Dick).  The specific aims of the project are to: (1) Use twin data to characterize gene-environment processes influencing substance use and externalizing behavior in young adulthood; (2) Conduct a series of exploratory analyses aimed at understanding how gene-environment interaction effects identified in twin data can inform our understanding of GxE effects associated with measured genes via a genome-wide association study; and (3) Test the generalizability of identified GxE effects (both twin and molecular) in a second, independent sample (the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development, VTSABD), with phenotypic data collection across a parallel age range and GWAS data. The parent project uses previously collected data from ~5,500 individual twins ages 12-27 participating in the longitudinal, population-based Finnish twin study (FinnTwin12) and a second sample, the VTSABD, with data on ~2800 individual twins followed longitudinally, with substance use assessments during childhood/adolescence (8-16 years) and in the early 20s.  The grant involves studying both latent genetic influences (as indexed via twin models) and specific measured genetic influences, through the analysis of GWAS data available on both samples.