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Mentors

Faculty involved with the training program are classified into one of three distinct categories: primary mentor, secondary mentor, or distance consultant. After discussion, fellows will select a primary mentor whose research expertise overlaps with the research interests of the fellow and who can provide a tangible research experience that focuses on that area of interest. The fellow will also be assigned a secondary mentor who will provide training and research expertise from a discipline usually distinct from the primary mentor’s. The distant consultants are faculty from outside the San Diego area that will be available to the trainees for additional mentoring or technical consultation.

Primary Mentors:  

Matthew Allison MD, MPH is the Division Chief and a Professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego. He conducts research that broadly investigates the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, with specific focal areas to include subclinical atherosclerosis, metabolism and body composition, kidney disease, women’s health and racial/ethnic disparities.

Cheryl Anderson, PhD, MPH, MS is a Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. Her research is focused on the role of nutrition in chronic disease prevention with a goal of equitably improving human health. Her work includes the development of nutrition policy strategies for prevention of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, and diet-related cancers. Dr. Anderson’s research uses observational epidemiology and randomized clinical trial designs, and her current funded projects address: sodium and potassium regulation in humans; cardiometabolic risk reduction through diet interventions; nutrition and hypertension in refugees living in San Diego; hypertension management in low and middle-income countries; and biomarkers of dietary intake. Dr. Anderson is the Director of the UC San Diego Center of Excellence in Health Behavior and Equity where the mission is to advance science that eliminates health disparities by personal or environmental factors.

Tarik Benmarhnia, PhD is an environmental epidemiologist with a joint appointment at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps institution of Oceanography and School of Medicine. He has strong emphasis on climate change, social inequalities and epidemiological methods involved in research projects both at the local scale in San Diego and globally.  His research aims at developing and applying statistical methods and environmental exposure models to better understand which populations and territories are more vulnerable to extreme weather events in the context of a changing climate and recommend equitable adaptation policies. 

Christina Chambers, PhD is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and is a Clinical Professor in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Her research focuses on environmental causes of adverse pregnancy outcomes and childhood disabilities. She has led a number of national and international complex longitudinal cohort studies and clinical trials of prenatal exposures and child health and development, and has worked in collaboration with researchers from all over the world to link multiple sources of large, detailed data and biorepositories to answer study questions. She has extensive government and industry funding and is an NIH-funded Principal Investigator on several grants. Dr. Chambers has successfully mentored 4 K-Award fellows, 9 post-doctoral fellows, and 4 visiting scholars.

Lori B. Daniels, MD, MAS is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, as well as Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. She is also the Director of the Coronary Care Unit. She is the recipient of the UC San Diego Cardiovascular Division Fellow’s Teaching Award, UC San Diego Internal Medicine Graduating Housestaff Teaching Award and the UC San Diego Cardiology Zipser Family Award for clinical excellence, humanitarianism, and teaching. Dr. Daniels’ research focuses on using biomarkers to assess cardiovascular risk in a variety of populations to include young adults with a childhood history of Kawasaki Disease. She has received an AHA Postdoctoral Research Grant, an American College of Cardiology/Guidant Foundation Research Grant in Women’s Cardiovascular Health, and an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant.

Linda Gallo, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Psychology and Co-Director of the South Bay Latino Research Center at San Diego State University. Her research focuses on understanding sociocultural factors in cardiometabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and developing and testing culturally appropriate interventions to reduce disparities in these conditions among Hispanics/Latinos. She is an NIH-funded principal investigator on several ongoing epidemiological studies and clinical trials. She has served as principal research advisor for more than 150 undergraduate trainees, more than 20 masters or doctoral students, four post-doctoral trainees, and several early stage investigators. 

Todd Gilmer, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health and focuses on health insurance and risk adjustment, diabetes care, and mental health services research. Dr. Gilmer specializes in research design and data analysis, the use of large data sets including those from Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial health plans, national surveys and census data, and mixed data sets that combine epidemiological data with health insurance claims, and the evaluation of community based interventions to improve chronic disease care including cardiovascular disease to low-income populations.

Eric Hekler, PhD is the Director of the Center for Wireless & Population Health Systems within the Qualcomm Institute at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine & Public Health and faculty of the Design Lab at UCSD.  There are three interdependent themes to his research for advancing. 1) methods for optimizing adaptive behavioral interventions; 2) methods and processes to help people help themselves, particularly N-of-1 methods: and 3) research pipelines to equitably improve people’s health efficiently. He is internationally recognized as an expert in the area of digital health. 

Linda Hill, MD, MPH is a Professor and Director of the UC San Diego Exercise and Physical Activity Training Center, Director of the Training Research and Education for Driving Safety, Program Director of the General Preventive Medicine Residency, and the Refugee Health Assessment Program. Dr. Hill has over 35 years of experience in working with non-profit community health centers, where she has an active practice, has designed behavioral interventions for multicultural populations. She currently serves as principal and co-investigator on studies addressing exercise and physical activity, bone health, obesity, injury prevention, driving safety, inflammation, and employee wellness.

Jan Hughes-Austin, PT, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Director of Patient-Centered Research within the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Her research focuses on cardiovascular disease and bone disease; and how these two interact. One area of research investigates the role that autoimmunity, e.g., rheumatoid arthritis (RA)-related autoantibodies play in cardiovascular disease and bone disease, specifically in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Within this cohort, she further aims to determine whether an individual’s major histocompatibility complex (MHC) modifies the autoimmunity and CVD link. Dr. Hughes-Austin has recently expanded her interest in bone disease to include bone health and fracture pathology, especially in the area of chronic kidney disease mineral bone disorder (CKD-MBD). Her research aims to establish a biomarker panel that will indicate bone turnover consistent with what is determined on bone biopsy from the hip in patients with hip fracture and CKD.

Joachim H. Ix, MD, MAS is a Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Nephrology-Hypertension at the University of California San Diego. He is also Staff Physician at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.  His research focuses on two main areas: (1) understanding the contributions of kidney tubule disease on CKD progression and (2) evaluating new approaches to treat CKD related mineral bone disorders.  On kidney biopsy, the degree of tubulo-interstitial atrophy and fibrosis is a strong prognostic marker for loss of kidney function, but is poorly captured by changes in eGFR or albuminuria.  His group has led research evaluating whether urine proteins that mark kidney tubule damage and dysfunction predict CKD progression independent of eGFR and albuminuria.  This work has led to important insights into monitoring in interventions and drugs that change eGFR and initiation of randomized clinical trials that aim to prevent tubulo-interstitial fibrosis.  In CKD mineral bone disorders, Dr. Ix has led NIH funded clinical trials evaluating novel therapies aimed at lowering serum phosphate and fibroblast growth factor-23 concentrations in CKD patients.  In addition, his team is evaluating novel approaches to diagnose and treat CKD related bone disease using bone biopsies.  

Robin Knight, PhD is the founding Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation at UC San Diego, where he is a Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, and Computer Science & Engineering. He co-founded the Earth Microbiome Project, and the American Gut Project, which is among the largest crowdfunded science projects of any kind to date. He has spoken at TED and written three books and over 600 scientific articles. He was honored with the 2019 NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for his microbiome research and won the 2017 Massry Prize, often considered a predictor of the Nobel. His work combines microbiology, DNA sequencing, ecology and computer science to understand the vast numbers of microbes that inhabit our bodies and our planet. His lab develops technology to read out and interpret complex microbial communities (also known as microbiomes), with applications in human health, host-microbe interactions, and the environment. Dr. Knight can be followed on Twitter (@knightlabnews) or on his website.

Andrea LaCroix, PhD is the Division Chief and a Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego, Director of the Women’s Health Center of Excellence, and Department Mentor Director for the Health Sciences Faculty Mentor Training Program. Dr. LaCroix continues to be instrumental in leading the development of WHI as a major resource for studies of aging women in collaboration with scientists across the US.  She was nominated by her postdoctoral fellows and received the 2010 McDougall Outstanding Mentorship Award at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. LaCroix led a NIA-funded T32 training program based at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, WA for 12 years entitled, “Improving Healthcare for Aging Women”. This Program trained 13 exceptionally productive early-stage postdoctoral scientists focused on women’s health from disciplines including epidemiology, pharmacy, nutrition communications, demography, social work, physical therapy, economic outcomes research, and health psychology. 

Paul J. Mills, PhD is Professor and Chief at UC San Diego’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. He is Director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health, Director of the Clinical Research Biomarker Laboratory, and Co-director of the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute’s Translational Research Technology (TRT) Program. He has expertise in Integrative Medicine and psychoneuroimmune processes in wellness and disease. His current projects focus on cardiac rehabilitation and Traditional Medical Systems. 

Mark G. Myers, PhD is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. He is a faculty member of the UCSD/SDSU Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and a member of the UC San Diego Cancer Center. Dr. Myers has participated in NIH study sections, currently serves on the editorial boards of addiction and behavioral medicine journals, and is a fellow of the American Psychological Association. He is author on over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has been the Principal Investigator on 12 NIH and state-funded grants.

Kevin Patrick, MD, MS is an Emeritus Professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego. Dr. Patrick's research focuses on the use of wearable technologies, smartphone apps, mobile video and social media to measure health states and promote health behavior change. Additional present research includes the development of IT systems that support the collection of patient reported outcomes and health status from patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Rany Salem, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego.

Nicholas Schork, PhD is Director of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics at the Scripps Translational Science Institute; Director of Research, Scripps Genomic Medicine; and Professor, Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Schork’s interest and expertise is in the areas of quantitative human genetics and genomics, especially the design and implementation of methodologies used to dissect the genetic basis of complex traits and diseases. Dr. Schork has been selected as a member of a number of scientific journal editorial boards, is a frequent participant in NIH related steering committees and review boards, and has also been on the advisory board of five companies. He is currently Director of the Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Core of the NIA-sponsored Longevity Consortium and a member of the NHGRI’s Genetic Association Information Network (GAIN) data analysis committee. Dr. Schork has published over 400 scientific articles and book chapters on the analysis of complex, multifactorial traits and diseases.

José Ricardo Suárez, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. His research focuses on understanding the role of environmental contaminants, such as pesticides and persistent organic pollutants, on adult cardiovascular/metabolic health and on child development including neurocognitive, mental health, endocrine, respiratory and inflammation outcomes. He is PI and founder of the ESPINA study and the Nuts and Olestra for Persistent Organic Pollutant Reduction (NO-POPs) trial, and conducts ancillary work in the CARDIA study. Dr. Suarez is PI on several NIH and foundation grants and conducts research in the US and Latin America.

Greg Talavera, MD, MPH is a bilingual, bicultural physician with over 30 years of community-based clinical and public health research experience. He obtained his BA from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), a Medical Degree from the University of Utah and his MPH and Preventive Medicine residency training from the San Diego State University/University of California San Diego joint program. Currently he is Professor in the School of Public Health at San Diego State University and Founder and Co-Director of the South Bay Latino Research Center. He has dedicated his clinical practice, research and advocacy to reducing disparities in the Latino Community both in San Diego and nationally. Over the last 30 years he has designed and managed research programs involving cardiovascular disease prevention, breast and cervical cancer screening promotion, behavioral interventions for diabetes care, recruitment of minorities into long-term clinical trials, and smoking cessation. In total he has led 21 grants, contracts and supplements totaling over $32 million in direct costs. All of these service and research programs have been culturally- and linguistically- appropriate for indigent, low-literacy Spanish-speaking Latinos. He is currently the PI for a series of chronic disease clinical trials evaluating the efficacy of the chronic care model on adherence to care among Spanish-speaking Latinos in a community health center. He has mentored numerous high school, undergraduate, masters, pre-doctoral students. Since 2006 he has been the principal investigator for the landmark Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, a longitudinal study of Latino health in 4 US cities and the largest study of Latino health in the US.

Sortorios (Sam) Tsimikas, MD is Professor of Medicine and the Director of Vascular Medicine at the University Of California San Diego School Of Medicine. He obtained his MD degree in 1988 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He completed Internal Medicine training at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1991, and fellowships in Cardiovascular Disease, Atherosclerosis and Molecular Medicine and Interventional Cardiology at the University of California San Diego from 1992-1997. Dr. Tsimikas’ clinical interests include running the Vascular Medicine Program which encompasses treating patients in the continuum of high-risk primary prevention to endovascular intervention. In 2014, he established the world’s first dedicated “Lp(a) Clinic”.  Dr. Tsimikas’ research interests focus on two major areas: 1-“biotheranostics”- biomarkers, molecular imaging and therapeutics targeted to oxidation-specific epitopes, and 2- Lp(a) pathophysiology and therapeutics. He has published in all of the major medical journals, including NEJM, Lancet, Nature, Cell and has over 280 original manuscripts, review articles and book chapters. He currently has a dual appointment at University of California San Diego Medical School and as Vice President of Global Cardiovascular Development at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, CA. He is co-inventor of 13 issued patents. 

Shu-Hong Zhu, PhD is a Professor in the Division of Global Health, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego and the Director of the Center for Tobacco Cessation.  Shu-Hong Zhu, Ph.D. is a Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and the Director of the Center for Research and Intervention in Tobacco Control (CRITC) at the University of California, San Diego.  Dr. Zhu is internationally recognized for his research on the effects of telephone counseling for smoking cessation, which led to the implementation of state tobacco quitlines in the U.S. and further influenced the practice of many national quitlines across the world.  He was the developer of the first state quitline in the U.S., the California Smokers’ Helpline, which has been in operation since 1992.  Dr. Zhu’s recent work focuses on examining the interface of individual- and population-based approaches to tobacco control and how public health interventions interact with market-driven influences. His team investigates the effects of social norms and the impact of emerging tobacco products (e.g., e-cigarettes) on population tobacco use patterns.  He is currently the PI of the statewide school evaluation project in California, which surveys more than 150,000 middle and high school students, with a focus on tobacco and marijuana use behavior.

Secondary Mentors: