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Faculty Spotlight


Mariana Lazo, MD, PhD, ScM

Mariana Lazo looks at one of the most important health problems facing the U.S. from two sides. She has become a leading expert on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease - studying its natural history   and cardiovascular effects, plus rigorously evaluating the most common non-invasive methods for detection.  She also examines the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on liver and cardiovascular diseases.

Mariana is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology and a core faculty member of the Welch Center for Prevention Epidemiology, and Clinical Research. She was awarded her medical degree in 2002 from the University of La Salle, Mexico, and went on to earn her ScM, and PhD in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow.   

Think of liver disease and it is likely that the image of an adult alcoholic comes to mind. But almost 29 million adults —almost 20 percent of all U.S. adults between 20 and 74 years of age —have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is liver disease in the absence of significant alcohol consumption. NAFLD, which is often initially asymptomatic, is now considered the leading cause of chronic liver disease in both children and adults in the United States and other Western countries. To learn more about the prevalence of NAFLD among U.S. adults, Mariana and her colleagues used ultrasonography data from 12,454 adults who participated in NHANES III to characterize the epidemiology of NAFLD; they found that NAFLD disproportionally affects Mexican Americans, older adults, and people with diabetes and obesity.

But alcohol consumption does play a role in other diseases, although the relationship can be complex. Mariana is PI of the Johns Hopkins site of the multinational Moderate Alcohol Cardiovascular Health (MACH15) Trial, a 9-year randomized clinical trial to determine whether drinking one alcoholic beverage per day will decrease the chance of developing heart disease One reason that MACH15 is important is that, to date, most studies of the effects of moderate alcohol consumption have been observational.

Mariana mentors graduate students and is co-director of the "Epidemiology of Diabetes and Obesity" course at JHSPH and co-leads the "Welch Center Diabetes and Obesity Interest Group/Journal Club”.  She comments that “It is a privilege to work with public health researchers who are so committed to what they do, and who also serve as such good mentors.” Clearly, Mariana is carrying on that tradition.