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Allison Aiello, Ph.D., Professor, Epidemiology

Dr. Aiello's research seeks to integrate social and biological data across the life course, including epigenetic approaches, to identify the key triggers of population variation in susceptibility to dementia, poor mental health, cardiometabolic, and immune/infectious disease outcomes. Her overall research goal is to elucidate whether stress-related biological imprinting, through immune and epigenetic mechanisms, explain how health inequities from these conditions arise and produce disease risk across the life span.

Dr. Allison Aiello is Professor of Epidemiology, Leader of the Social Epidemiology Program, Director of Graduate Studies in Epidemiology, and a Carolina Population Center Fellow at the University of North Carolina- Gillings School of Global Public Health at Chapel Hill. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Social Medicine, UNC School of Medicine. Prior to moving to UNC, she was on the faculty at the University of Michigan Department of Epidemiology for 10 years, where she started her academic career and was a John G. Searle Assistant Professor of Public Health. As the PI of multiple epidemiological studies, Dr. Aiello has significant leadership and experience in conducting research that integrates social, environmental, immunological, and genomic approaches, across a range of age groups and among diverse participant populations.

For the past 15 years, she has been leading field studies with social, immunological, and genomic data collection in large scale research studies. Dr. Aiello’s research program examines how socioeconomic status influences a range of health outcomes, with a focus on stressors, infection, immunity, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and mental health. Socioeconomic gradients in mental health are well documented in the literature.  There is evidence that lower socioeconomic status may influence mental health outcomes through stress related alterations in immunity and inflammation. Dr. Aiello’s work uncovered markers of immunity and immune response to infection as the basis for a biological pathway linking socioeconomic disadvantage to immunological aging and other health conditions. Her work has shown that infection and aging of the immune system is profoundly shaped by socioeconomic disadvantage within the US population, resulting in significant variations in immune response at the population level. She went on to identify a link between immune response to infection and multiple health outcomes, including depression, AD, and cognitive impairment. Together, her study findings suggest that socioeconomic disadvantage perturbs the immune system via increased susceptibility to infection, thereby hastening the onset of immune related conditions, including mental health conditions and AD. Beyond identifying the immune related mechanisms linking socioeconomic disadvantage and mental health or AD, this work has important implications for the development of both social and biological interventions for protecting the health of populations for a wide range of immune related conditions.

Dr. Aiello has also been conducting applied research on prevention of respiratory infections in the community setting for over 15 years. She has led several large research studies of prevention for pandemic respiratory infections in the community setting, where she has tested the effectiveness of hand hygiene, mask use, and staying home while ill, for reducing respiratory infection transmission.  Her research findings have contributed to global and national guidelines on pandemic preparedness, personal protective measures, and hand hygiene in the clinical and community setting. She serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Epidemiology and has served on the editorial boards of the Annual Reviews of Public Health and American Journal of Infection Control.

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