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Online J Public Health Inform. 2014 Dec 15;6(3):e198. doi: 10.5210/ojphi.v6i3.5571. eCollection 2014.

Systems Epidemiology: What's in a Name?

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Dept of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA ; Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Dept. of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.
Dept of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA.
Inserm, U676, Paris, France ; Department of Perinatal Imaging and Health, Department of Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, King's College London, King's Health Partners, St. Thomas' Hospital, London, United Kingdom.
Department of Systems Biology and Bioinformatics, University of Rostock, Rostock, Germany ; Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Neuroepidemiology Unit, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA.


Systems biology is an interdisciplinary effort to integrate molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, and organism levels of function into computational models that facilitate the identification of general principles. Systems medicine adds a disease focus. Systems epidemiology adds yet another level consisting of antecedents that might contribute to the disease process in populations. In etiologic and prevention research, systems-type thinking about multiple levels of causation will allow epidemiologists to identify contributors to disease at multiple levels as well as their interactions. In public health, systems epidemiology will contribute to the improvement of syndromic surveillance methods. We encourage the creation of computational simulation models that integrate information about disease etiology, pathogenetic data, and the expertise of investigators from different disciplines.


Systems theory; computer simulation; epidemiology; systems biology

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