Faculty Spotlight

Lina Mu, PhD, MD

Lina Mu, PhD, MD, joined the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health as an assistant professor in 2008.  She was promoted to associate professor in 2013 and is now the graduate director of the school's MPH program as well as the director of the MPH concentration in epidemiology.

“Genetic susceptibility is involved in how the environmental exposures and life style factors might affect cancer incidence and I think it is very important for people to know that they may be born with a high or higher susceptibility to developing cancer or other diseases.”
Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health

It was referred to as "tumor town" due to it's incredibly high incidence of cancer among the people living in this small, rural community in China. Esophageal, liver and stomach cancer were all too common but no one knew exactly why.  What made this area - and the people in it - different from the general population and why were so many people affected?

While it was more than 20 years ago, Lina Mu, PhD, MD, can vividly recall working as a master's student to answer those questions.

"That work is what really got me interested in both environmental epidemiology and cancer research," says Mu.  "I was extremely interested in learning if this extremely high cancer incidence was caused by environmental factors, genetic factors or some combination of both."

Now, at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, Mu's research focuses on both environmental and cancer epidemiology.

"As it pertains to environmental epidemiology, my main focus is on air pollution and figuring out better ways to characterize human exposure.  This is important because if we can understand this better, we can have a better understanding of the connection between air pollution and health outcomes such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and even birth outcomes."

With her cancer research, Mu is specifically interested in understanding how the environment in which we live and our genetics interact in relation to cancer incidence.

"With my background in environmental epidemiology and my work in air pollution, I know cancer is a health outcome due to varying environmental factors. I have a specific interest in the gene, environment interaction and how those affect cancer risk."

For example, why do some people develop cancers and others do not when they grow up in the same environment or participate in the same behaviors of lifestyles? 

"Genetic susceptibility is involved in how the environmental exposures and life style factors might affect cancer incidence and I think it is very important for people to know that they may be born with a high or higher susceptibility to developing cancer or other diseases," says Mu. "Our research is devoted identifying and helping those high-risk populations understand these differences and perhaps making them aware that they need to avoid those environmental exposures or lifestyle behaviors which put them at further risk."

While Mu is proud of her accomplishments in the field of research, she is eager to continue to investigate some of those pressing questions.

"There is still more I'd like to investigate, especially when it comes to air pollution and early life exposure.  This is a critical time period and being exposed to air pollution can potentially have a significant impact on childhood development and future life disease development."