Betsy Foxman

Dr. Betsy Foxman is one of those epidemiologists that you can say with certainty has served the epidemiology community well.  She was the Chair of the Epidemiology Section in the American Public Health Association (2000-2001), the Founder and Chair of the Epidemiology Society Leadership Group (2001-2007), President of the American College of Epidemiology (2005-2006), and Program Chair for the 2006 Congress of Epidemiology among many other service roles.  But interestingly enough, Dr. Foxman never originally planned to take on leadership roles.  She said that, “I ended up on the Epidemiology Council of APHA because I had gone to an APHA meeting and was too shy to ask a question, but there was a session where what they said made me furious. So I channeled my anger and said something.  The chair of the section came up to me and asked if I would be a part of the Council.  I was flattered and terrified… [then] I was doing things on the national stage for epidemiology.  I was the APHA representative for the First Congress of Epidemiology.  Because of that I got tapped into being a part of ACE and later became president of ACE.  You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Dr. Foxman is currently the Hunein F. and Hilda Maassab Professor of Epidemiology, Director of the Center for Molecular and Clinical Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Interdisciplinary Training Program in Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan. She began her training at the University of California, Berkeley where she received a Bachelor’s of Science in Conservation of Natural Resources.  This program inspired her to continue to study epidemiology because, “after taking epidemiology in undergraduate school, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”  Dr. Foxman then obtained a MSPH and a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles.  She has had an impressive career in research pertaining to the transmission, pathogenesis, ecology and evolution of infectious agents, and the transmission of antibiotic resistance among bacteria.  According to Dr. Foxman, her interest in studying microbial transmission and microbiota in humans was the next “logical thing.  One great thing about being an epidemiologist is that you can follow the science wherever it goes.  When I came to Michigan and got my first grant, I looked at behavioral risk factors for urinary tract infections.  The great thing about Michigan is that the laboratories are fully integrated in the department and at a holiday party, one person asked if I had looked at the bugs. I hadn’t and one of my closest collaborators said he would give me a bench space… [I have] still done it ever since.  Looking at microbial communities, that’s what we used to dream about when I started.  Now with the new genetic techniques, it’s pretty easy.”

Because of her experience on this topic, Dr. Foxman, along with her recent doctoral student Dr. Mariana Rosenthal, published an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology entitled “Implications of the Human Microbiome Project for Epidemiology,” which provides information for epidemiologists to contribute to and interpret results from this area of research.  When asked about the article she said that, “the first thing [to do] is to see how variable microbiota are… this gives us an easy place to start, but how do they form?  How do they disperse?  How do they interact with each other?  How do they interact with the human host?  We know there is tremendous heterogeneity in our response to disease, so maybe microbiota are really important to enhance our body’s ability to protect us.”The American Journal of Epidemiology article is found here and Dr. Foxman can be contacted at bfoxman@umich.edu.