Andrea Baccarelli

My commitment: Realizing the promise of precise prevention to transform public health

Every day we are bombarded by an array of health advice, which often creates confusion rather than change. As precision medicine transforms the one-size-fits-all approach to a tailored individual diagnosis and treatment, my role at the Mailman School of Public Health is to apply a similar strategy to the prevention side of healthcare: to target specific communities and vulnerable populations with health strategies to prevent disease before it starts.

Precise prevention imagines a world where you and your doctor can devise an action plan that uses your own biological, epidemiological, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics to stop a disease before it starts. My own work in epigenetics, the study of how genes are read and expressed by cells, is making prevention more precise as we understand the importance of life biosensors. Our DNA records our life experiences, and by looking at how different risk factors (e.g. smoking, physical activity, diet, etc.) affect our DNA, we can use these life biosensors to predict the future disease risk of an individual.

With epigenetics and prevention, we need to think about the aspect of social responsibility. Whether I smoke or drink or exercise could influence my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren through epigenetics. The mindset to precisely prevent disease and illness before they occur can create healthier homes, workplaces, schools, communities, and cities for our future generations.