Brisa N. Sánchez, Dornsife Endowed Professor of Biostatistics

Dornsife Endowed Professorship applies statistics to advance environmental health
Annette J. Molyneux
Brisa N. Sánchez, Dornsife Endowed Professor of Biostatistics

Brisa N. Sánchez joined Drexel in 2019 as Dornsife Endowed Professor of Biostatistics in the Dornsife School of Public Health. Previously, she spent 13 years in the Biostatistics Department of the University of Michigan, where she was promoted to full professor with tenure in 2018. Sánchez earned a PhD in Biostatistics from Harvard University.

Sánchez is internationally recognized for her work on latent variable models with environmental health applications. Latent variables are characteristics of the environment that are not directly visible but which can be inferred from other available data. For instance, multiple sources of data can be combined using latent variable methods to measure whether a neighborhood environment is more or less likely to promote and contribute to obesity in its residents.

Given their commitment to civic engagement, Drexel and the Dornsife School of Public Health offer unparalleled opportunities to translate my statistical research to practical applications for Philadelphia and other cities.

The endowed professorship which Sánchez holds was established as part of the transformative gift made by Dana and David Dornsife in 2015, which led to Drexel naming the School of Public Health in their honor. It is one of three endowed professorships which the Dornsifes funded at Drexel to support the recruitment and retention of top faculty in high-impact public health disciplines. The others are held by Alex Ezeh, Dornsife Professor of Global Health, and Gina Lovasi, Dornsife Associate Professor of Urban Health.

“Given their commitment to civic engagement, Drexel and the Dornsife School of Public Health offer unparalleled opportunities to translate my statistical research to practical applications for Philadelphia and other areas,” says Sánchez. “Increasingly, cities seek to utilize data to improve their environment and the health of their populations.”

Sánchez is interested in the development and innovative application of statistical methodology to the study of environmental determinants of health, and health disparities. Sánchez currently leads methodological research to assess health impacts of neighborhood-level exposures to social and built environments through a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded project. She co-leads an additional NIH-funded project which aims to evaluate how the food environment in schools, regulated through food nutrition policies for schools, impacts child obesity, and how food environment near schools modifies the impact of school nutrition policies on obesity disparities. This project utilizes over 17 million child-level observations collected over more than 15 years.

In addition, Sánchez is co-principal investigator of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded, mixed-methods project which investigates how water infrastructure in Mexico City neighborhoods shapes and is shaped by residents' trust in water and their health.

In addition to her work in environmental health, Sánchez has extensive expertise in research involving health disparities and cardiovascular disease, including stroke, as well as the effectiveness of policies geared toward elimination of childhood obesity. She has published numerous peer reviewed articles in, and has served as an editor for, many leading statistical, epidemiology and medical journals.

Sánchez has held multiple leadership roles in research collaborations, research administration, professional organizations, and has served on panels for the National Academies of Science. She served as director or co-director of several NIH-funded research centers, and currently also directs the Biostatistics for Social Impact Collaboratory.

Sánchez is an active proponent of and participant in team approaches to scientific discoveries, and she combines statistical rigor with practical considerations of the research questions at hand.

“My research team is housed in Drexel’s Urban Health Collaborative,” says Sánchez, referring to the center which increases scientific knowledge as well as public awareness of health issues in large and concentrated populations. “The critical mass of researchers here who are focused on environment and health creates important and distinctive opportunities for synergistic research and real-world applications. Our collaborative work propels statistical research and fuels its translation to policy action and engagement with communities.”

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