Feature: Bringing world perspectives to research

By Cam Buchan

A career that has taken him through Europe and North America has given Dr. Saverio Stranges a global perspective on the fields of epidemiology, and public health. And as he begins his second term as Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Stranges has big plans to take the department on an even greater journey.

Dr. Saverio StrangesBorn in Italy, Stranges completed medical school and a residency in public health and preventive medicine at the University of Naples Federico II, one of the oldest state universities in the world. From there, he moved to the University of New York at Buffalo to complete his doctoral training in epidemiology; then back to Europe and the University of Warwick in England where he was director of the academic training in public health with clinical work in cardio-metabolic risk management. Next stamp in his passport: Luxemburg Institute of Health as Director of Population Health. And finally, Western University as department chair.

“These experiences have provided a huge opportunity for me to grow, both as a human being and as a professional. I’ve become very open-minded, and I have a very inclusive leadership style, as a result,” said Stranges, whose international research responsibilities range from low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa to his role as director of The Africa Institute at Western.

“I’m committed to supporting students from marginalized communities. I am also very committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, not just philosophically but with tangible actions which make a difference.”

Wide-ranging research

Stranges oversees research into a wide array of subjects covering the well-being of communities and individuals. His own interests dovetail nicely with these areas. Stranges’ research portfolio includes preventing disease through research into diet, physical activity, sleep, and the social determinants of health.

In the epidemiology area of his department, researchers are exploring the drivers behind healthy aging, from mental illness to cognitive decline to equitable health access. Kelly Anderson, PhD, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Public Mental Health Research, is doing research into the prevention of early-onset psychosis, especially among children and adolescents. Other researchers are conducting clinical trials on the prevention of cognitive decline. Greta Bauer, PhD, is working to understand the specific challenges and barriers faced by transgender people in accessing health care services. Dr. Shehzad Ali, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Public Health Economics, is investigating interventions that can minimize health inequities across different populations.

“Our research is very impactful because we deal with such broad problems,” said Stranges. “We look at the wider issues that affect the general health status of our populations.”

Epidemiology and biostatistics are the underpinnings of strong clinical research, enabling researchers to accurately address important clinical and public health questions. Stranges highlights Guangyong Zou, PhD, whose ability in biostatistics and clinical trials’ methodology is recognized internationally. Dan Lizotte, PhD, cross-appointed with Computer Science, is using artificial intelligence to analyze large data sets to improve predictive models in disease prediction, especially in primary care.

Moving forward

Stranges brings his global experiences to the task of building networks for his colleagues. “What is most rewarding for me is to provide opportunities for junior colleagues and students to flourish and to be the best they can be in their chosen fields,” he said.

Stranges has always been a strong advocate for public health. In keeping with this vision, his goal for the Department is to build on the strong foundations of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program and create a school of public health that spans Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and other faculties across Western.

“One of the challenges we face is to strengthen our links with community stakeholders and engage them in our research. A campus-wide School of Public Health would provide the ideal platform to generate even more impactful research to influence guidelines, policy and practice.”

Despite the challenges of overseeing a thriving department and his own research, Stranges enjoys relaxing with his wife, Rachel Calogero, Professor of Social Psychology at Western, their two sons, Vincenzo and Gabriel, and their dog Rocco.

He brings a similar approach to his department: “When it’s time to work, we work hard. When it’s time to relax, we take time to relax.”