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Unit information: Molecular Epidemiology for Non-Communicable Diseases in 2020/21

Unit name Molecular Epidemiology for Non-Communicable Diseases
Unit code BRMSM0013
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Zuccolo
Open unit status Not open




School/department Bristol Medical School
Faculty Faculty of Health Sciences


The aims of this unit are to:

  • Introduce students to high-throughput molecular data commonly used in non-communicable disease epidemiology
  • Explain the different ways in which these data can be used in large scale epidemiological studies, including for exposure assessment, disease prediction and to help with causal inference and mechanistic insights (eg Mendelian randomization).
  • Describe the design and challenges of both genome-wide and epigenome-wide association studies and how to interpret their results.

Both genetic and non-genetic molecular data will be discussed.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students should be able to:

  1. Describe the design and challenges of genome-wide and epigenome-wide association studies
  2. Interpret results from genome-wide and epigenome-wide association studies
  3. Give examples of how molecular data can be used in epidemiological studies of non-communicable disease, including appropriate study design and analysis strategy
  4. Critically evaluate scientific papers that use molecular data in non-communicable disease epidemiology

Teaching details

Teaching will include learning activities set by the tutor including lectures (synchronous and asynchronous), small group work, discussions, individual tasks, and practical activities (face to face or online).

Directed and self-directed learning will include activities such as reading, accessing web-based supplementary materials, critical analysis and completion of assessments

Assessment Details

Formative assessment will support student learning by using informal questioning, quizzes and group exercises in weekly sessions online and off-line. These form an assessment for learning and will not contribute to the final unit mark. Students will also complete a (formative) exercise half-way through the Unit, where they will critically appraise a published molecular epidemiology study.

Summative assessment: The unit will be assessed using a single piece of coursework:

  • Mix of short answer questions and MCQs (single best answer). These will cover problem-based questions, results interpretation, and critical appraisal (ILOs 1-4; 100% of total unit mark).

A mark of 50% is required to pass the unit.

Reading and References

There is no essential unit text book.

Recommended reading:

  1. Steven S. Coughlin. Toward a Road Map for Global -Omics: A Primer on -Omic Technologies. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 180, Issue 12, 15 December 2014, Pages 1188–1195
  2. Bush WS, Moore JH (2012) Chapter 11: Genome-Wide Association Studies. PLoS Comput Biol 8(12): e1002822.
  3. Birney E, Smith GD, Greally JM (2016) Epigenome-wide Association Studies and the Interpretation of Disease -Omics. PLoS Genet 12(6): e1006105.
  4. Dempster E.R., Lerner I.M. Heritability of threshold characters. Genetics. 1950;35:212–236.
  5. Rothman N, Hainaut P, Schulte P, Smith M, Boffetta P, Perera F. Molecular Epidemiology: Principles and Practices. IARC Scientific Publication No. 163