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Forum Looks at Inherited Health Issues, Racially Based 

Epidemiologist Cathrine Hoyo, who will deliver the keynote talk at Friday's President’s Forum on Health Disparities. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 12, 2019) — Research is growing supporting the theory that emotional states and stress as well as factors within the physical environment such as exposure to lead can alter which of a person's genes are active. Any group with disproportionate exposure to these forces will experience epigenetic changes that can have enormous impact upon lifetime personal health.

That will a key topic on Friday when the University hosts its annual President’s Forum on Health Disparities, 9:40 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. in the Campus Center West Boardroom.

Titled “The Role of Epigenetics in Health Disparities,” the forum is supported by UAlbany’s Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities, created in 2016 through a $10 million National Institutes of Health award to the University.

Following introductory remarks, the event’s keynote talk will be delivered by epidemiologist Cathrine Hoyo of North Carolina State University, co-director of its Integrative Health Science Facility Core in the Center for Human Health and the Environment. Her center has done much research exposing a higher incidence of genetic epigenetic risks for minorities, including from such environmental pollutants as cadmium.

Epigenetics refers to changes in the way DNA is expressed, how it is activated and, essentially, which genes are operating. Prenatal development is a key time when a person exposed to physical and emotional factors could have DNA expression altered. “Experiences during the lifetime and especially early in life create epigenetic profiles that can and do affect health,” said Lawrence Schell, distinguished professor of Anthropology, Epidemiology and Biostatistics and director of the Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities.

In addition to alcohol abuse, air pollution and other material health factors, epigenetics incorporates such experiences as stress and trauma as potential causes of negative health outcomes.

“There is good evidence that epigenetic profiles may be passed on from one generation to the next, so that the trauma that one generation experiences may affect subsequent generations,” said Schell. “The fact that racial differences in these profiles exist is why this event pertains to and is part of the University’s 400 Years of Inequality Observance, which looks upon the legacy of slavery in North America.”

President Rodríguez, Vice President for Research James Dias and Dr. Moro Salifu from Downstate Medical Center will provide introductory remarks. Following Hoyo’s keynote speech and lunch, faculty from Downstate Health Sciences University and UAlbany will present current research on epigenetics and health.

Hoyo’s research probes how early development influences heightens the risk of common chronic diseases, especially those that exhibit racial/ethnic differences in incidence and/or mortality, including cardiometabolic diseases and some cancers. She will address this subject in her talk.

A native of Zimbabwe, Hoyo serves as principal investigator for the development and maintenance of the Newborn Epigenetics Study (NEST), a birth cohort following children currently ages 3-5years. In the last three years, she has used the extensive repository of data from NEST and other studies to determine the extent to which prenatal exposure to toxic metals is associated with shifts in the epigenome and increased risk of childhood obesity.

To this end, she has collaborated with a geochemist and an analytic chemist to multiplex measure toxic and essential metals in prenatal peripheral blood and also evaluated the extent to which toxic metals shift the epigenetic profile in in vitro and post-birth human beings.


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