Spotlight: Jennifer Smith


Dr. Jennifer A. Smith is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Research Assistant Professor in the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research and is affiliated with the Center for Integrated Approaches to Health Disparities (CIAHD), the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging (MiCDA), and the Center for Midlife Science. She is also a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health’s Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health. Dr. Smith received her master's degree in Public Health, a master's degree in Statistics, and a doctoral degree in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Smith explores the impact of individual and neighborhood disadvantage on the epigenome, which is also a 4-year NIH-funded research project that started in May of 2018. The discovery work will use data from two epidemiologic studies – the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Genetic Epidemiology Network of Arteriopathy (GENOA)- and replicate results in other cohorts with similar measures, including the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study (ARIC) and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). “The strength of this project is combining multiple cohorts and a nationally-representative sample,” said Dr. Smith. “Any work that has been done so far is on a small scale. Nobody has evaluated this question in multiple cohorts and almost everybody has focused on a single candidate gene, not the entire genome.” Apparently, Dr. Smith and her team may overcome the limitation of doing this kind of analysis in pieces. The present project expands existing research in terms of methylation, linking the multiple steps between the exposure and methylation and the outcomes.

Her work encompasses a broad range of traits, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dementia, cognition, and health behaviors. She studies genetic/epigenetic determinants both as direct risk factors for chronic disease, as well as the interaction between genetic and non-genetic factors in shaping disease risk. In particular, she is interested in genetic interaction with social, psychosocial, and neighborhood determinants of health, particularly those that influence health disparities.


In a collaboration with Dr. Belinda Needham, she is investigating how genetics and environment work together or integrate to influence health and disease. “These collaborative opportunities have allowed us to build the foundation in our research for our current projects on social epigenomics, which is one way social conditions become physically embodied. We also have very successful collaborations with faculty and students in Biostatistics, and two papers have been published now,” said Drs. Needham and Smith.

For questions about her courses or research, contact Dr. Smith at