Epidemiology Business Leader Focused on Improving Health of Future Generations
Nehanda Jones, BS '19, MPH ’21
Founder of EpiCom, LLC
Nehanda Jones was driving through the University of Michigan campus a few years ago and noticed a sign promoting the School of Public Health’s new undergraduate program.
“My thought at that moment,” Jones remembers, “was that this program is the best next step for where I wanted to go professionally. I didn’t complete my biology degree the first time I went to college, and I still had student debt from that time.”
But with all that Jones had experienced over the last decade, she had an emerging conviction.
“I knew that I was not only curious about population health but that, with a public health degree, I could have a tremendous impact on future generations,” she says.
...With a public health degree, I could have a tremendous impact on future generations.
Jones was born and raised in Ann Arbor and had been interested in science since grade school. But her journey to public health, she says, “was a convoluted one.”
After graduating high school, she relocated to Atlanta and studied biology and chemistry while working in a molecular biology lab to pay her way through school. During her junior year, an overseas McNair Scholar placement led to a more permanent position conducting botany research on an NIH-funded project in Ghana, West Africa.
After living and working in Ghana for three years, Jones returned home to Ann Arbor to work in clinical and research labs at the University of Michigan Hospital. Jones says her personal experiences helped her realize the generational impacts that health decisions and outcomes can have on family.
“In returning to Ann Arbor, working in cancer research, working in that field as a single mother of color, with asthmatic children . . . that’s really what launched my public health journey,” she says.
Jones was enrolled at Washtenaw Community College wrapping up an associates degree with honors when she saw that sign on campus. She applied to the undergraduate program and was accepted into the first cohort of the school’s undergraduate program. She completed a BS in Public Health Sciences in 2019 and two years later had completed an MPH in epidemiology.
Having worked on cancer biology for so many years, Jones was struck by the potential of applying the overarching principles of precision medicine — tailoring medical decisions to an individual’s known genetic and environmental profile — at population levels.
“Beyond supporting one individual at a time, precision health can positively impact the health of so many — everyone in the community really,” Jones says.
Jones now works as a Real World Evidence Scientist for a data aggregator that uses cancer records from across the country to help researchers design and implement observational studies.
“We use real-world data to better understand treatment for cancer patients, which ultimately will improve health outcomes for thousands of people,” she says.
We use real-world data to better understand treatment for cancer patients, which ultimately will improve health outcomes for thousands of people.
Jones also recently started her own business, EpiCom LLC, a public health technology firm.
“My focus on applying the lessons and innovations from my work in translational and precision medicine to population health led to the formation of EpiCom,” she says. “Our goal is to promote sustainable health solutions for everyone using evidence-based solutions and people-centered technologies.”
Jones and her team have two projects in the early stages of development. The first is a digital curriculum designed to engage high school and college students with “epidemiological concepts and contributions to science and medicine in a way that is interactive and representative,” Jones says.
The second is a data visualization platform that incorporates environmental, social, and demographic data to “reverse-engineer social determinants of health into medical and health data to improve operations by making them more equitable for everyone,” says Jones.“The public health response to the pandemic illuminated for health decision makers the myriad ways factors outside of medical care impact health outcomes,” she says.
The new platform, Jones hopes, will help stakeholders address those discrepancies.
Jones has fully transitioned from cancer biology to cancer epidemiology, a convoluted path, perhaps, but one that has remained sharply focused on future generations.
“It has been an amazing journey, and it feels great to find a career path that incorporates all of my experiences in making a positive impact on people’s health.”
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