Since joining Drexel University School of Public Health as an assistant professor in 2010, Dr. Brian K. Lee has contributed to several important epidemiological studies. His work spans the prenatal period, with work on in-utero environmental exposures and autism risk, to senior citizens, with research on the effects of neighborhoods and psychosocial “stress” on the cognitive decline of older adults.
Dr. Lee is the principal investigator in a pilot study of blood markers during fetal and prenatal life and the risk of autism in childhood with the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The institute conducts more than 40 percent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden.
Together with researchers from the Karolinska Institute, Dr. Lee studied if prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke is a potential risk for autism after several previous studies yielded mixed results. After analyzing more than 42,000 entries in Sweden’s medical registry, Dr. Lee found that maternal smoking is not associated with increased risk of autism in the newborn, and that the increased risk found in some previous studies is attributable to confounding by the parents’ sociodemographic characteristics, such as education, income and occupation.
In addition, Dr. Lee is a co-investigator in the “Study of Health Outcomes in Children with Autism and their Families.” This study seeks to access an appropriate database and assess the accuracy of ASD diagnosis. Researchers hope to obtain and analyze data about health outcomes and healthcare use among families with an autistic child and to identify risk factors that may be related to the etiology and risk of ASD. As part of this research the team will assess prenatal pharmacologic exposures.
At the other end of the life spectrum, Dr. Lee recently published a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry which found that residing in a psychosocially hazardous neighborhood is associated with worse cognitive function in older age for those with a specific gene that is predictive of increased risk and earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Beyond his work on environmental influences on neurologic development, maintenance and decline, Dr. Lee also focuses on the methodology toolbox necessary in epidemiology. These tools include biomarkers, machine learning and data mining.