Posted March 11, 2009

Temple Law to run new $19 million Public Health Law Research program

Innovative program created by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will fund interdisciplinary research nationwide

  • Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University Burris

Temple University's Beasley School of Law has been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to manage a new $19 million national program that will fund interdisciplinary research exploring legal and regulatory solutions to pressing health challenges such as chronic diseases, and health emergencies including floods, bioterrorism and epidemics.

The Public Health Law Research program will operate under the direction of Temple Law professor Scott Burris, an internationally recognized authority on how law influences public health.

"The Public Health Law Research program brings long-needed funding and attention to the crucial role of law in public health," said Burris, who also co-directs Temple Law's new Center for Health Policy, Law and Practice. "Law can be a powerful tool for improving public health. Laws have contributed to reductions in smoking and they have increased use of seat belts." But, he explained, laws and law enforcement practices can also endanger health.

"RWJF's investment is important because only good research can tell us what laws work and what laws don't work for public health," he added. "This is a golden opportunity to give policy makers and health advocates the information they need to pursue healthy policies — and our job at Temple will be to do everything we can to make sure the evidence our researchers produce gets to the people who need it."

A Temple Law faculty member since 1991, Burris is one of the founders of modern public health law and a pioneer in the use of empirical research in the discipline. He published the first law review article detailing the public health law issues raised by HIV/AIDS and led the effort to create the first comprehensive legal analysis of the epidemic. His work has been funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. He is currently working with the United Nations to reduce policy barriers to treatment of pain and drug dependency.

Burris is also a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health, where he is associate director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health. Before joining the Temple Law faculty, Burris worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, where he represented people with HIV in cases of discrimination, privacy and access to care in prisons, as well as played a leading role in developing privacy and confidentiality legislation in Pennsylvania.

"We expect the Public Health Law Research program to launch a new era of research through the best talent in law and public health. We know that strong policies and laws can help Americans lead healthier lives," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The first call for proposals under the new program will be announced this spring. Universities and other research institutions from around the country will be invited to submit proposals. For more information about the program or to sign up for announcements about funding opportunities, go to

"Under the leadership of someone as accomplished as Scott, this program will bring national recognition to the school's newly created Center for Health Policy, Law and Practice,” said JoAnne A. Epps, dean of Temple Law.

Co-founded and co-directed by Burris and Temple health law professor Frank McClellan, Temple Law's Center for Health Policy, Law and Practice is devoted to finding solutions to critical legal issues in public health and healthcare through interdisciplinary research projects, courses and problem-solving partnerships with academics and community leaders both locally and internationally. Efforts will focus on promoting community collaboration in cities like Philadelphia, while integrating the law school’s international work in areas such as HIV/AIDS, health and rule of law. Other program faculty members include Jennifer Wood, an associate professor of criminal justice in the College of Liberal Arts, and Jennifer K. Ibrahim, an assistant professor of health policy in the College of Health Professions.