The Cardenas Lab
The Cardenas Lab at the University of California, Berkeley utilizes innovative epidemiological and molecular approaches to characterize the relationship between environmental exposures and the development of health and disease.
Our lab leverages data and samples from epidemiological studies to investigate the impact of the environment on the epigenome and its contribution to the development of health and disease. We leverage high dimensional epigenetic data and high-quality epidemiological studies to test novel hypotheses on the fetal origins of health and disease, epigenetic aging and early-life adversity.
Children’s Environmental Health
Children’s Environmental Health
Our Research Team
Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem, Ph.D.
Jamaji Nwanaji-Enwerem is a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley School of Public Health and a final-year MD/MPP candidate at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Kennedy School. He earned his Ph.D. in the Harvard University Biological Sciences in Public Health program. His present research interests span the topics of environmental exposures, health/disease biomarkers, epigenetics, molecular/biological aging, and science/health/environmental public policy.
Anna Smith, MPH
Anna is a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley in Environmental Health Sciences, with an emphasis in Computational and Genomic Biology. She is also a trainee in the UCB Biomedical Big Data Training Program. Her research focuses on using novel epidemiological, molecular, and computational approaches to examine the mechanisms by which cumulative exposures during critical periods of development promote chronic disease. She earned her BS in Environmental Toxicology and Communication at UC Davis and her MPH in Environmental Health Sciences at UC Berkeley, where she examined dietary and household predictors of urinary phthalates and phenols in the HERMOSA study cohort of adolescents. For her dissertation, she is examining the effect of prenatal exposure to mixtures of metals on biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation, adipocyte-secreted hormones at birth, and adiposity during childhood in the Project Viva study. She aims to combine her research career with research translation and communication so that environmental health findings are more widely integrated into clinical practice and public policy. In her free time, Anna enjoys running, cycling, climbing, and exploring new hiking spots.
Kaitlyn is a backpacking fanatic from the pacific northwest with a passion for public health! Kaitlyn is in her second year in the MPH Global Health & Environment program. Before beginning her Master’s program she spent 3 years in Santiago, Chile, working as an elementary school teacher as well as for the Fundación Ciencia Para la Vida. Over these last two years, much of her research has focused on investigating chronic kidney disease and diarrheal disease as well as water quality and occupational exposures in Latin America, specifically in Mexico and Costa Rica. Kaitlyn’s dedication to global public health stems from her desire to focus on enhancing the lives of the most vulnerable and underserved populations through fostering public health solutions grounded in data-driven evidence. In her free time, you can find Kaitlyn experimenting in the kitchen with spices from across the globe or walking her black lab, Layla.
Phil Collender, MPH
Phil has been a staff scientist in Environmental Health Sciences since 2016. As an undergraduate, he studied molecular biology and anthropology at the University of Virginia before doing his MPH work at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health in Global Environmental Health, focusing on issues of water- and foodborne disease and sustainable sanitation. Through his work with the Remais, Eisen, and Cardenas groups, Phil has developed expertise in various aspects of statistical, environmental, and epidemiological modeling and analysis, with published research spanning topics from hydrological and social determinants of disease, methods to link massive epidemiological databases under uncertainty, to simulation-optimization of infectious disease surveillance systems.
Ella is an MPH student at UC Berkeley studying Epidemiology and Biostatistics. She aspires to conduct research that focuses on the relationship between environmental exposures and biomarkers through applying causal inference, bioinformatics, and computational biology. Her research interests include understanding the effects of climate change, ambient air pollution, and viral infection on gene expression and epigenetic markers. Her prior research experiences were in molecular biology which focused on virus-host interactions and medical anthropology, where she researched the historical and socio-economic factors that contributed to toxic levels of air pollution in New Delhi.
Raj is currently an MS candidate at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and MD candidate at the UC San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine. His research interests include the effects of environmental air pollution on the epigenome as well as skin and respiratory health outcomes. In addition, he has conducted research in the fields of molecular and cell biology, green chemistry, and health systems science. For fun, Raj enjoys hiking, exploring new restaurants in San Francisco, and watching movies!
Lars van der Laan
Lars is a recent graduate of the M.A. program in Statistics at UC Berkeley and is planning to pursue a PhD in the near future. His research interests include machine learning and targeted learning with applications to genetic data and causal inference. Recently, his focus has been on analyzing epigenetic clocks and evaluating the utility of machine learning as tools to develop aging biomarkers. In relation to these interests, he also focuses on developing scalable software to help solve statistical problems that come up in the real world. In his free time, he enjoys programming, hiking, and bugging his father with talk of statistics.
Saher is a graduate student at UC Berkeley pursuing a MPH in Epidemiology/Biostatistics and a Graduate Certificate in Applied Data Science. Her research interests lie in understanding the epigenetic effects of prenatal and early life environmental exposures, and their role in the onset of adverse health outcomes later in life. Previous research experiences related to toxicology and global health have also furthered her interest in bridging science and advocacy to promote the health of underserved communities. In her free time, Saher enjoys going on long walks through the Berkeley hills and consuming copious amounts of hummus.
Prenatal and Postnatal Exposure to Environmental Mixtures: Neurodevelopment and DNA Methylation Biomarkers
Funder: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) – R01 ES031259
Childhood decrements in neurocognitive development result in large population burden and expenditure. The proposed research will identify the extent to which prenatal and postnatal neurotoxic mixtures as well as key prenatal nutrients jointly influence neurocognitive development in childhood. This research will provide early life DNA methylation biomarkers that reconstruct prenatal exposures and predict childhood neurocognitive performance with the goal of developing novel and early-life interventions to protect children.
Early life influences on Epigenetic Aging in Mexican-American children
Funder: National Institute on Aging (NIA) – R03AG067064
Age acceleration, the difference between one’s biological age determined by their epigenetic clock, and one’s chronological age has been associated with age-related conditions like pubertal development, obesity, and cancer. In this proposal, we will use state of the art methodologies to estimate epigenetic clocks in MexicanAmerican children participating in the CHAMACOS study and identify early life factors during pregnancy and at birth (gestational age and birthweight) that may affect epigenetic age acceleration during childhood. Understanding the factors that impact age acceleration will help us elucidate the biological and developmental processes that influence age-related phenotypes.
Mitochondrial DNA biomarkers of prenatal metal mixture exposure: intergenerational inheritance and infant growth
Funder: Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR) – 2017-1740
This project will test whether maternal prenatal exposure to metal mixtures (16 metals) during the 1st trimester of pregnancy can disrupt molecular markers of mitochondrial DNA damage and abundance in mothers and children as key mediators of metabolism and infant growth. Over 2,000 samples are being analyzed by CHEAR for metals and mitochondrial DNA biomarkers and telomere length in Project Viva.
Toxic Substances in the Environment: Arsenic Epigenomics
Funder: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) – 3P42ES004705-31S1
The major goals of this project are to conduct a meta-analysis of arsenic exposure and DNA methylation across two epidemiological cohorts in Bangladesh and Chile. The goals are to develop unified pipelines for DNA methylation processing and analysis and to provide training to SRP related staff and trainees on the use and re-use of high dimensional epigenetic data.
Rachel is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in Public Health. She is particularly interested in studying the disproportionate burden of chronic illnesses on disadvantaged communities, as well as the effects of prenatal exposures on developmental outcomes. In the past, she has worked with both the UCSF Bixby Center and UCSF Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics on research projects concerning reproductive health and precision medicine. In her free time, she can be found in the kitchen baking tahini-swirl brownies and apple galettes!
The Cardenas Lab is currently seeking highly motivated postdoctoral fellows to work in several research areas. We welcome candidates with diverse backgrounds, training and a passion for learning. Candidates should have R statistical software experience and expertise in executing and interpreting epidemiological data. Projects include analyses of existing large scale -omics data such as genome-wide DNA methylation, transcriptomics and epigenetic aging from multiple human cohorts and studies. Candidates with previous research experience in environmental mixture modeling and proven analytical and quantitative skills are preferred.