Nicole M. Gatto, PhD, MPH


“I am motivated to drive high-quality, impactful research that will contribute to improving health and preventing disease and disability in diverse populations.”

Nicole M. Gatto, PhD, MPH

Principal collaborative scientist, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute
Adjunct Research Assistant Professor, Dept. of Population and Public Health Sciences, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
Adjunct Professor, Loma Linda University, School of Public Health


Nicole Gatto is a principal collaborative scientist at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI), where she predominantly works on the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) Study examining Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

Nicole’s research aims to increase our understanding of chronic diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. She has studied a broad range of risk and preventive factors including environmental, occupational, lifestyle, physiological, and genetic factors. She has led several funded epidemiologic studies, effectively utilizing data from cross-sectional, case-control, cohort, and experimental studies and applying different analytical approaches in her research. Recently, Nicole completed an investigation in the Adventist Health Study-2 cohort on lifestyle factors in mild cognitive impairment. Additionally, she has experience leading 2 separate diagnostic validation studies of over 600 self-reported Parkinson’s disease cases in the California Teachers Study cohort.

Nicole earned her Master of Public Health from the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA and her PhD in epidemiology from the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. Subsequently, she completed a 3-year post-doctoral fellowship at UCLA in environmental neuroepidemiology as well as a 1-year internship in communicable disease control and prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. She holds certifications in public health, SAS, geographical information science, and college teaching.

In 2009, Nicole co-founded the Milagro Allegro Community Garden, a vibrant and thriving community space that integrates urban farming, art, and education in the Highland Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles. In 2010, inspired by Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, Nicole developed, with colleagues, LA Sprouts, a nutrition, cooking, and gardening intervention aimed at reducing the risk of childhood obesity in predominantly Latino elementary school-aged children. From 2012 to 2017, she led the evaluation of the Little Green Fingers project, which constructed 8 community gardens across Los Angeles County.

In 2014, Nicole was a recipient of the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s highest environmental honor. In 2018, she was awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant to teach epidemiology to public health professionals at the National Center of Public Health in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. In 2020, Nicole was named a Fulbright Scholar and, during 2021, she taught and conducted research at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. In 2022, she was awarded a second Fulbright Specialist grant to consult on research and teach environmental health and epidemiology at the University of Cartagena, Colombia.

Nicole has faculty appointments at the University of Southern California and Loma Linda University, among others. She is a member of several professional societies, including the American Public Health Association and the International Society of Environmental Epidemiology. She serves as a reviewer for prominent public health journals, including Environmental Health Perspectives, Journal of the Neurological Sciences, and Public Health Nutrition. She also serves as guest editor for the journals Vaccines and Brain Sciences.

Nicole is inspired by the work of Wangari Maathai, who founded the Green Belt movement in Kenya, and Alice Waters, who created the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California.

Recent Publications

Chipidza W, Krewson C, Gatto NM, Akbaripourdibazar E, Gwanzura T. Ideological variation in preferred content and source credibility on Reddit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Big Data Soc. 2022 Mar 9;9(1):20539517221076486. doi: 10.1177/20539517221076486. eCollection 2022 Jan. PubMed

Gatto NM, Garcia-Cano J, Irani C, Liu T, Chen Z, Paul J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fraser GF, Wang C, Lee GJ. Vegetarian dietary patterns and cognitive function among elderly adults: the Adventist Health Study-2. J Nutr Gerontol Geriatr. 2021 Oct-Dec;40(4):197-214. doi: 10.1080/21551197.2021.1965939. Epub 2021 Aug 19. PubMed

Gatto NM, Lytle B, Ogata P. Farming, pesticides and brain cancer: A 20-year updated systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Cancers (Basel). 2021 Sep 5;13(17):4477. doi: 10.3390/cancers13174477. PubMed


Learn About the ACT Study

ACT study logo

Understanding brain aging

For over 30 years, the Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) Study has been advancing our understanding of cognition, aging, and better ways to delay and prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.



Cataract surgery linked with lessened dementia risk

JAMA Internal Medicine study finds cataract surgery associated with 30% lower risk of dementia in aging population.

ACT Study


Roundup of 3 recent studies on dementia risk

Researchers explore links between hearing loss, military service, and cognitive decline — and look at timeliness of diagnosis.