Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health: The Evolution From Theory to Technology

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Genetic epidemiology represents a hybrid of epidemiologic designs and statistical models that explicitly consider both genetic and environmental risk factors for disease. It is a relatively new field in public health; the term was first coined only 35 years ago. In this short time, the field has been through a major evolution, changing from a field driven by theory, without the technology for genetic measurement or computational capacity to apply much of the designs and methods developed, to a field driven by rapidly expanding technology in genomic measurement and computational analyses while epidemiologic theory struggles to keep up. In this commentary, we describe 4 different eras of genetic epidemiology, spanning this evolution from theory to technology, what we have learned, what we have added to the broader field of public health, and what remains to be done.

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