Hello, I’m Yu-Sheng Lee, an Assistant Professor of Public Health at the College of Public Affairs and Administration. Before proudly joining the community of UIS in 2021, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Memphis, Tennessee, where I obtained my Ph.D. in Epidemiology.
I was born and raised in Taiwan, where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Public Health and master’s degree in Community Health. After my master’s study, I worked as a research assistant at Taiwan’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) for five years until I came to the US. As I worked in Public Health research and practice at NIH, I felt that something was missing. For me, that was Epidemiology. Epidemiology is one of the most exciting avenues one can pursue. So, it was inevitable that I pursue another master's degree and a doctorate in Epidemiology. We are often referred to as Disease Detectives. As an Epidemiologist, I unlock the mysteries behind identifying people at risk of disease and determine how to stop or control its spread to prevent it from reoccurring.
My research has focused on various chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, lung cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My goal is to investigate the risk factors for these diseases and the genuine associations to prevent the incidence of diseases. This is also the ultimate goal of Public Health. I am especially interested in risk factors regarding environmental/neighborhood characteristics, health behaviors, health care aspects, and genes. Each of these makes its own contribution to health status, but synergistically they combine to fashion a Gordian Knot. I enjoy the challenge of cutting through these seemingly intractable problems. For example, the neighborhoods where one lives affects their health. My previous studies found that people living in neighborhoods with high education, median youth concentration, and median percentages of single-parent families had better overall self-rated health than those who lived in neighborhoods with moderate education, low youth concentration, and moderate percentages of single-parent families using multilevel binomial regression models. Diet also plays an essential role in health, and it interacts with environmental/neighborhood characteristics. I found that distance to patronized stores and shopping or cooking behavior, e.g., purchasing canned food and cooking meals from scratch, affected people’s health in urban neighborhoods in New Orleans. The distance to patronized stores impact people in the communities to obtain fresh fruit and vegetable. People purchase canned food at corner stores or convenience stores if they cannot shop at full-service grocery stores or farmer's markets. Such shopping behavior subsequently influences people’s cooking behaviors and what they eat daily. New Orleans was a food desert for many African American neighborhoods. According to the CDC, with our years of efforts, the access to a full-service grocery store in African American neighborhoods is not significantly different from other racially mixed neighborhoods. This means that improvements in supermarket access are occurring, and environmental inequity is being ameliorated.
In Public Health, smoking is considered one of the most significant risk behaviors because it is associated with many diseases such as lung disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and chronic kidney disease. My studies demonstrate that smoking has a significant dose-response effect on developing proteinuria (kidney disease) in male Type 2 diabetic patients. I also found that environmental and neighborhood characteristics are associated with individual smoking and drinking. Here again, it shows how the neighborhood characteristics interact with health behaviors and subsequently affect people’s health. Moreover, health care, e.g., the control of blood sugar levels among diabetic patients, is also found to be a risk factor for chronic kidney disease based on our seven-year prospective cohort study. Specifically, there is an association of HbA1c variability with microalbuminuria (a sign of kidney disease) development in diabetes.
My doctoral dissertation mainly focused on the clinical Epidemiology of lung cancer. I investigated lung cancer surgery and post-operative survival. I found that 5% of the lung cancer patients in the US Mid-South region experienced incomplete surgical resections, i.e., tumor tissue remains at the margin of the resected specimen after the surgery. This dissertation also developed a Mid-South hospital-based surgical quality metric called the Risk-Adjusted Margin Positivity (RAMP) model, which classified hospitals as underperformers, nonoutliers, or outperformers. The results of this model and study provide essential information for the hospitals in the Mid-South region to identify how well they are doing compared to the national reference data. My dissertation is the first study to find the association between cancer surgery criteria and hospital performance.
Although smoking is now confirmed to be one of the risk factors for lung cancer, adenocarcinoma is the most common form of non-small cell lung cancer in those who have never smoked and is more common in women than in men. Without considering the molecular level, I found it is hard to look at diseases as a whole picture. Now I am focusing on Epigenetic Epidemiology. The word epigenetics is of Greek origin and means over and above (epi) the genome. Epigenetics is the study of how the environment (e.g., water or air pollution) and people’s behaviors (e.g., diet, smoking, drinking, physical activity) can cause changes that affect the way people’s genes work without any change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism. A paper comparing DNA methylation between blood and bronchial epithelial cells has been published in the Epigenomics journal (https://doi.org/10.2217/epi-2020-0384).
As a professor at UIS, my research shapes my teaching. With interdisciplinary experiences in Public Health, I comprehensively understand a disease with broad scope from a macro-, e.g., environment, behavior, and health care aspects, to a micro-, e.g., Epigenetics Epidemiologic viewpoint. I trust that my students will develop an appreciation for the synergistic combinations of factors that contribute to the disease process and develop a sense of accomplishment as they move from casual observation to a more sophisticated understanding of the human condition. I teach MPH 501 Introduction to Public Health and Epidemiology, including MPH 511 Basic and MPH 514 Advanced Epidemiology, MPH 512 Chronic Disease Epidemiology, and MPH 513 Infectious Disease Epidemiology. Introduction to Public Health class provides practice by examining the history, philosophy, purpose, organization, functions, tools, and results of public health at international and local levels. It also provides an overview of public health practice's basic concepts and core functions, the scope of applications, and the variety of service organizations that shape public health. In Epidemiology classes, I combine Epidemiologic theories and methods with my experiences to make the topics we cover relevant and impactful. Students examine Epidemiologic concepts and techniques, disease causation models, and study designs. They also use morbidity, mortality, and other vital statistical data in the scientific appraisal of health.
“…I want to be that teacher who, even after decades in the classroom, still leaves each session asking how the next might be better and how this unique set of students might be better engaged and inspired….” This sentence truly represents my teaching philosophy.