RWJF Health & Society Scholar:
Environmental Health, Epidemiology
Area(s) of Expertise:
Epigenetics, Gene/Environment Interactions
J. Richard Pilsner is an interdisciplinary molecular epidemiologist. His research focuses on the role of epigenetics as a mechanism linking maternal and paternal environmental exposures to reproductive and offspring health.Dr. Pilsner received his PhD in Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in 2007. His research, guided by Dr. Mary Gamble, utilized the prospective cohort of Bangladeshi adults from the NIEHS-funded Superfund Project entitled, "Health Effects and Geochemistry of Arsenic and Manganese" (PI: Dr. Joseph Graziano). Dr. Pilsner's dissertation entitled, " The metabolic interactions between inorganic arsenic, selenium and folate nutritional status on the impact of genomic DNA methylation", capitalized on a diverse portfolio of epidemiological study designs including a cross-sectional study, an arsenic-induced skin lesion case-control study, and a double blind, placebo-controlled folic acid supplementation trial. For this work, Dr. Pilsner won 1st prize for the student research competition at the 2006 International Society of Environmental Epidemiology Annual Conference in Paris, France. Dr. Pilsner also received his MPH from Columbia University, where in 2001, he was awarded a two year EPA STAR fellowship to study the effects of manganese exposure on mitochondrial respiration and iron homeostasis. After completing his dissertation, Dr. Pilsner was awarded the coveted Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society (HSS) Research Fellowship at the University of Michigan. During his three year tenure as an HSS Scholar, Dr. Pilsner focused his research on the Early Life Exposures in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) study (PI: Dr. Howard Hu), a multidisciplinary birth cohort study with the mission of investigating the influence of environmental toxicant exposures on the development and future health of the fetus. Specifically, Dr. Pilsner examined the role of epigenetics as a mediator of fetal lead exposure and subsequent adverse health outcomes, such as neurodevelopment, and how genetic polymorphisms in the one-carbon metabolic pathway influence this relationship. In other interdisciplinary collaborative projects, Dr. Pilsner examined DNA methylation changes associated with a broad range of environmental exposures such as methyl mercury in wildlife animals (Dr. Nil Basu) and psychosocial stress in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (Dr. Ana Diez-Roux). Dr. Pilsner is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is currently launching the Sperm Environmental Epigenetics and Development Study (SEEDS) in collaboration with Baystate Medical Center's Reproductive Medicine. Other collaborations include epigenetics of vocal learning in songbirds (Dr. Luke Remage-Healey) and breast cancer epigenetics (Dr. Susan Sturgeon).