discoveries magazine

Population Sciences to Close Gaps

Crowd of people seamless pattern

A diverse pool of investigators is laying the foundation for the newly minted Division of Population Sciences in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Along with population sciences initiatives across Cedars-Sinai Cancer, the new division aims to develop a deeper understanding of human disease.

“In addition to studying animal models and cell lines, we focus on human beings as the source of our inspiration and the subjects we study,” says Robert Haile, DrPH, the division’s new director and the Cedars-Sinai Chair in Cancer Population Health Sciences.

At the heart of population sciences is translating research into actionable information that closes healthcare gaps. In cancer, for example, researchers might analyze whether genetic factors drive tumors differently by race and ethnicity.

Population sciences also delves into behavioral factors that may drive or curtail disease—such as physical activity, nicotine use and adherence to screening guidelines. An example: Using sophisticated statistical analyses, Dr. Haile’s team uncovered a high incidence of advanced breast cancer in local neighborhoods with large Korean populations.

“It turns out there was a very low rate of mammographic screening among Korean women in those areas that was unrelated to access but stemmed more from cultural determinants of low adherence to screening guidelines,” says Dr. Haile, who is also director of the Cancer Research Center for Health Equity. In response, his team launched the Faith in Action study based in Korean churches in L.A. “The study relies on church members who also act as health navigators to encourage women to get screened for breast cancer," says Dr. Haile.

According to David Underhill, PhD, Biomedical Sciences Department chair and the Janis and William Wetsman Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, “Cedars-Sinai’s large and diverse community, rich repository of patient data and highly skilled team positions the institution to become an international leader in the field of population sciences.”