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30+ Years of Cohort Studies in the Department

Contributed by Mari Palta

The Population Health Graduate program just celebrated its 20-year anniversary, but several study cohorts were started by Department faculty 30 years and longer ago. At that time, we were still the Department of Preventive Medicine and housed at 502 and 504 N Walnut Street with the Health Services faculty at Bradley Memorial Hospital. These cohorts are still yielding important health information and contribute to the research enterprise of SMPH.

The Wisconsin Diabetes Registry Study (WDRS) was started in 1987 with Donn D’Alessio as PI to identify all newly diagnosed cases of Type 1 diabetes in southern Wisconsin. Over 500 subjects were recruited and followed for 20 years with clinical exams, testing of HbA1c and questionnaires. Recently, Pediatrics faculty member Elizabeth Cox, MD PhD (Pop Health 2006) received funding from the American Diabetes Association to re-contact the WDRS participants to identify barriers to glycemic control in adulthood. Also, with funding from the UW2020 Initiative, Drs. Cox and Palta, along with Drs. Michelle Kimple and Dawn Davis from the Endocrinology Division of the UW Department of Medicine, are working to make WDRS participants’ data and frozen samples a more accessible resource for diabetes investigators across campus.

The Newborn Lung Project was also initiated in 1987 with Mari Palta as PI, and enrolled all of about 1000 very low birth weight neonates admitted to 7 NICUs in Wisconsin and Iowa during 1988-1991. Recently, subjects from this cohort and a subsequent one born 2003-2004 form the basis for cardiopulmonary health and exercise capacity in adults born very low birth weight by the lab of Pediatrics faculty member Dr. Marlowe Eldridge and Dr. Kara Goss in the Department of Medicine.

Last, but not least, the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study started in 1988 with Jerry Dempsey and Terry Young as PIs. The cohort, still ongoing, has continuously accumulated sleep data from repeated overnight sleep lab study visits and questionnaires on well over 1000 subjects. Recent research by PHS faculty member Paul Peppard (Epidemiology PhD 1999), Utah State faculty member and Associate Dean Eric Reither (MS in PH 2001) and PHS Scientist Erika Hagen (PhD in PH 2008) has addressed relationships of sleep to parenting, asthma, cardiopulmonary issues, weight gain and cognitive function. The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort group also collaborates with many other researchers at UW, and other institutions nationally and internationally.

The tradition of population based samples and cohort follow-up has remained a special strength of the Department, with a prime more recent example being the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin (SHOW) with PHS faculty members Paul Peppard and Kristen Malecki as co-PIs.

SHOW Website


To look at some pictures from the Population Health 20th anniversary, read some Department history and check out your memories of some Department trivia, visit:

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To make a contribution to the Graduate Program for student educational purposes, please visit:

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