2019: Marc Weisskopf, PhD, ScD

Fourth Annual Richard V. Lee Lectureship in Global Health

Marc Weisskopf, PhD, ScD.

Lecturer Biography

Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Physiology Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

My research interests mostly come from my background in neurobiology. I am interested in how environmental factors affect the nervous system, as well as the epidemiology of neurologic disorders. Current areas of my work include how environmental exposures relate to:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Mental health
  • Cognitive function/Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Some examples of my current work include exploring how exposure to toxicants (e.g., lead, manganese, and air pollution) affect cognitive function and psychiatric symptoms; how air pollution and other toxicants relate to autism spectrum disorder (ASD); and how toxicant exposures like formaldehyde and lead relate to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In addition, I have a large study in Israel and Denmark to explore the relationship of currently used medications to ALS. I am also very interested in issues of epidemiological methods and causal inferences as they relate to my work.

Although not exclusively, much of my work is conducted within large cohorts.  I have worked on risk factors for ALS mortality using the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II cohort, which was the largest prospective cohort study of risk factors for ALS with a cohort size of over 1 million.  I am now exploring risk factors for ALS within the entire Danish population using their registry system and in large health care databases of several million people in Israel.  I have explored the relationship between air pollution exposures and risk of ASD among children of women in the Nurses’ Health Study 2, and am currently examining these questions in the entire Israeli population. I am developing efforts in the Nurses’ Health Study 3 to assess the health of the children of this cohort (in particular ASD and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) related to the exposures of their mothers. I also work with the Normative Aging Study, a cohort of community-dwelling men in the Greater Boston area.

An important direction of my research involves developing new ways of examining impacts on the nervous system. My past laboratory research examined the cellular and molecular mechanisms of plasticity in different areas of the brain, processes that are believed to underlie learning, memory, and emotional regulation at the behavioral level. I am building on this background to develop new biomarkers of effects on the nervous system in humans that may be earlier indicators—and potentially more sensitive ones—of adverse effects, specifically examining the effects of metal exposures on behavioral modifications of the acoustic startle reflex that relate to learning and attention. These approaches get at basic biological phenomena thought to underlie clinical behaviors and have direct parallels in animal models, thus facilitating comparison with that literature.