Julia Heck, PhD, MPH

Associate Dean for Research

I received a PhD in Epidemiology at Columbia University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organization. I joined UNT in 2020.

Primary Research Interests: 

My focus is lifecourse epidemiology, with particular interests in early life exposures and later health outcomes. My major research focuses on the epidemiology of birth outcomes and childhood cancers within cohorts of children from the United States, Scandinavia, and Taiwan, with an emphasis on environmental and occupational causes of cancer as well as maternal and paternal health, pharmaceutical use, and the perinatal environment.

Birth Outcomes among Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Families: This project uses a large cohort of 1.7 million Danish births to examine the prevalence of preterm birth, low birthweight, and other adverse birth outcomes among the offspring of mothers and fathers with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. We will additionally look at the prevalence of pregnancy complications in mothers with the condition. For this project I am working with colleagues at the Danish Cancer Society and UCLA.

Ambient Air Toxics and Breast Cancer Risk: This study uses data from the Multiethnic Cohort to examine residential exposure to industrial and traffic-related air pollution in relation to breast cancer risk. For this I am collaborating with UCSF, USC, The University of Hawaii-Manoa, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, and Oregon State University.

Childhood Cancer in Relation to Parental Occupational Exposure to Chemical and Other Agents: I lead the Parental Occupation and Childhood Cancer (POCC) Study, an international effort that integrates data from large prospective databases in Denmark with cancer registry data. The overarching objective of this study is to address hypotheses of exposure to environmental agents in childhood cancer etiology, using validated job-exposure matrices (JEMs) developed by Danish occupational hygienists. This project includes over 6000 cancer cases, and we are able to additionally use data from the Danish Medical Births Registry to address questions of gestational risk factors.

Maternal Comorbidities, Prescription drug use in pregnancy, and Childhood cancer (COMPAC): I am PI of a large-scale study of childhood cancer among Danish children which utilizes information from large medical and pharmaceutical databases to examine the risk of childhood cancers from maternal comorbid health conditions and prescription drug use during pregnancy..

Environmental Health Tracking of Childhood Cancers: Our group has several projects which use California Cancer Registry records of 11,000 childhood cancer cases, linked to California birth records, to examine the risk of cancer related to perinatal exposure to traffic-related air pollution, air toxics, pesticides, and other environmental as well as gestational risk factors. A new NIH-funded study within this project examines exposure to industrial pollution emissions in relation to risk for pediatric cancers.

Metabolomic Profiling of Retinoblastoma: This project conduct broad metabolomic profiling of newborn blood spots among retinoblastoma cases and controls. We aim to examine whether nicotine and cotinine differ in blood spots between retinoblastoma cases and controls, and also to examine a variety of metabolites in relation to cancer risk. Recently we received funding from NIH to conduct a metabolome-wide association study (MWAS) within this cohort.

Childhood Cancer in Taiwan: Along with colleagues at National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences, we are investigating maternal health and pharmaceutical use in risk for childhood cancers and birth outcomes. We are using data from the Taiwanese National Health Insurance Database. This grant is funded by the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

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