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Faculty Profile: Norrina Allen, PhD

Norrina Allen, PhD

Norrina Allen, PhD, is an associate professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology and of Pediatrics. She is also the director the Center for Epidemiology and Population Health at Feinberg. Allen joined Feinberg faculty in 2011 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in epidemiology at the medical school.

A cardiovascular epidemiologist, Allen focus is on health services research, specifically studying the effect of environment and geographic area on cardiovascular disease, disparities in quality of care and patient outcomes, and the use of large databases to further examine these questions.

She is also a member of the Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health, Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences, the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) and the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute.

What are your research interests?

As a cardiovascular epidemiologist, my research has progressed from being focused on the impact of quality of care and access to healthcare in the context of a specific cardiovascular event or hospitalization to a broader understanding of the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) over an individual’s lifetime. Most recently, my research has taken a life course approach to understanding the development of cardiovascular disease, particularly in examining blood pressure, a major risk factor for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. My primary focus is on using and developing sophisticated methods to study cardiovascular health (CVH) across the life span including understanding the developmental origins of CVH, the trajectories and critical periods in CVH, and its impact on disease incidence and healthy aging.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

Ultimately, I hope that my work will help to preserve and promote cardiovascular health throughout the lifetime. We are working to understand the origins of CVD early in life so that we develop interventions that are personalized to the context, population and period in life. The goal is that these interventions will enable individuals in ideal CVH to maintain it and others to achieve ideal CVH thereby reducing the burden of CVD in later life and promoting healthy aging.

How did you become interested in this area of research?

My research was originally focused on understanding the care and outcomes of acute cardiovascular events and stroke. As my research has evolved, it became clear that the greatest impact to reducing the burden of CVD and stroke would be if we could prevent them in the first place. Throughout my career, we have continued to move down the causal pathway with the goal of preventing CVD going from secondary prevention to primary prevention and now a focus on primordial prevention (i.e. preventing the risk factors). My research has been guided by finding the most effective ways of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors and thereby enabling individuals to have a longer, healthier life.

What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus (and beyond)?

All of my work has been accomplished as a team. I strongly believe that collaboration is essential to successful research. A key focus of my own research and that of the Center for Epidemiology and Population Health, which I direct, has been on building a strong network of collaborators across Northwestern and globally. Much of our work has been to bring together large groups of individuals and cohorts in order to enable consortia capable of addressing novel research questions at a larger scale. We were recently funded to launch a new consortium, the Dementia Risk Prediction Project, which is a collaboration of 11 cohorts and center in the U.S. and Europe. This is just one of the many large collaborative projects in which we are involved. In addition, we are actively engaged in collaborative projects with a variety of departments, centers and institutes across campus including the Division of Cardiology, the Departments of Neurology and Medical Social Sciences, the Institute for Innovations for Developmental Sciences, IPHAM and NUDACC, among others. As our work has evolved to examine cardiovascular health in children, we have developed strong ties to Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Where has your work been published?

Our papers are published in a wide variety of general medical, cardiology and epidemiology journals. Recent publications have been in JAMA, Circulation, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Hypertension, American Journal of Epidemiology and more.

How is your research funded?

My research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and the National Institute on Drug Abuse) and the American Heart Association.