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Senior YSPH Professors Retiring

June 30, 2020
by Colin Poitras

Three senior professors who made substantial contributions to their scientific fields and provided many years of service and leadership at the Yale School of Public Health are retiring on June 30.

Former Dean Paul Cleary described Brian Leaderer, Ted Holford and Dan Zelterman as “pillars” within YSPH community who exemplified the best of what the school has to offer – innovation, collaboration, service and impactful scientific research that improved public health for all.

“It is the passing of an era,” said Cleary, who served as dean from 2006 to 2017 and is now the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health (Health Policy). The Yale School of Public Health has built up an impressive team of junior faculty over the past few decades, Cleary said, primarily because of the nationally-recognized work of people like Leaderer, Holford and Zelterman and the impact they have had both within the school and in their respective fields.

“They are the ones who put the building blocks in place, and we owe them a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Cleary said. “Their presence enhanced the prestige of the school and made it so much easier to recruit people.”

Leaderer, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology (Environmental Health Sciences) and a professor of forestry and environmental studies, pioneered some of the earliest environmental health research into indoor air quality. His study about the hazards of using kerosene stoves and heaters in enclosed spaces (published as a lead article in Science) provided the scientific underpinnings that led to new regulations and warnings about their use.

Using one of the first controlled environmental chambers located at the John P. Pierce Laboratory at Yale, Leaderer, a Pierce Laboratory fellow, conducted extensive research into vapor-phase contaminants and particle contaminants generated by indoor environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). His modeling of ETS exposures helped lead to the banning of smoking in commercial spaces. The work earned Leaderer a prestigious ASHRAE Crosby Field Award.

With an undergraduate degree in engineering, Leaderer helped design one of the first passive air sensors, versions of which remain in use today. His research into the health impacts of passive smoking on pregnant women and children’s birth rates and how nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves contributes to health problems and pediatric asthma was groundbreaking.

A selfless collaborator, Leaderer, in a recent interview, attributed much of his success to the outstanding talents of the people he worked with including Ted Holford, Michael Bracken, Janneane Gent, and William Kane.

But others said Leaderer’s contributions to his field cannot be understated.

“Brian’s outstanding knowledge of environmental exposures and how they should be measured has been invaluable to moving forward the fields of environmental exposures,” said Bracken, the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology at the School of Medicine and founding director of the Yale Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (PEU).

Leaderer frequently collaborated with Bracken and other PEU members on research into the environmental causes of respiratory diseases in infants and children. In recognition of the importance of that research, the PEU was renamed the Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology (CPPEE) at YSPH and the Yale School of Medicine in 2002 with Bracken and Leaderer serving as co-directors.

Leaderer’s contributions as an administrator and faculty leader are as impressive as his long list of research publications (300+). During his time at YSPH, Leaderer served as head of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, Interim Dean of Public Health (2 years), Deputy Dean of Public Health (14+ years), Vice Chair of the Department of Epidemiology in Public Health and Interim Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Leaderer also led numerous intraschool committees including the appointments & promotions committee, centennial committee and CEPH accreditation committees, which, under his watch, obtained a seven-year reaccreditation for YSPH, the maximum term allowed.

It has been a remarkable journey for Leaderer, who earned his MPH degree (1971) and PhD (1975) from Yale and then went on to become a widely respected leader and colleague at the school.

Holford, coincidently, also spent his entire professional career at YSPH after earning his PhD in Biometry at Yale in 1973.

Like Leaderer, Holford also served in numerous administrative positions during his career including stints as the Head of the Division of Biostatistics, Director of Graduate Studies, Acting Dean for Public Health and Acting Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. He currently serves as the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Public Health (Biostatistics) and as a professor of statistics and data science.

A fellow of the American College of Epidemiology and the American Statistical Association, Holford, like Leaderer, will continue to serve as a professor emeritus and senior research scientist after his retirement.

An expert biostatistician, Holford achieved national recognition for his work with Bracken evaluating the efficacy of a drug used to treat spinal cord injuries. The work led to approved uses of the medication, which dramatically improved functionality in patients with serious spinal cord injuries. The study earned Holford a prestigious Wakeman award for research in the neurosciences.

Holford published more than 335 peer-reviewed papers encompassing research into oral treatments for diabetes, the health effects of tobacco use, potential birth defects related to oral contraceptives and age period cohort effects on cancer.

“Ted has made fundamental contributions in developing novel statistical methods for epidemiologic research and clinical trials,” said Hongyu Zhao, the Ira V. Hiscock Professor of Biostatistics, Professor of Genetics, Professor of Statistics and Data Science and Chair of the YSPH Department of Biostatistics. “His work on age period cohort analysis is really seminal, and his work on cancer modeling and prevention is very influential, as highlighted by his 2014 JAMA article on the impact of tobacco control on the reduction in smoking-related premature deaths. He is also a leader in spatial temporal modeling of diseases. “

Like his colleagues, Zelterman is also a Yale graduate having obtained his PhD in statistics from the university in 1983. He joined Yale as a professor in the Department of Biostatistics in 1995 and since then has served continuously as Director and Co-Director of the Yale Cancer Center’s Biostatistics Core. He also served for a short time as the acting Division Head of the Biostatistics Department.

Zelterman spent much of his career developing discrete distributions in statistics particularly as they pertain to disease clustering in families, including those related to cancer epidemiology and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

A fellow of the American Statistical Association since 1998, Zelterman has had a tremendous impact on YSPH students over the years as the primary instructor for the school’s mandatory introductory class in statistics. His ability to show students the public health contributions provided by statistical analysis and the importance of understanding mathematical relationships in interpreting data has provided critical training to thousands of future public health professionals and researchers.

Zelterman’s dedication to public health education is reflected in his authorship of six books, many of them addressing the science, development, and application of statistical modeling.

“Dan is a prolific writer and has published many high impact papers as well as six books,” said Zhao. “He has proposed a number of new statistical distributions that are well adopted, and he has led the Yale Cancer Center’s Biostatistics Core for 20 years. His contributions have resulted in many breakthroughs in cancer research.”

Like Leaderer and Holford, Zelterman isn’t slowing down with retirement. He is currently revising a new book manuscript and actively working on two more. He also continues to contribute to research papers affiliated with the Biostatistics Core and participates in a seminar on designing clinical trials.

When he is not working, Zelterman enjoys playing the bassoon in amateur community orchestra groups and hiking.

Submitted by Sayuri Gavaskar on June 30, 2020