News

Dr. Slavich Receives 2017 Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology

Lab director, Dr. George Slavich, Ph.D., has been announced as the 2017 recipient of the highly coveted Early Career Professional Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology. The award is given by the Society for Health Psychology, and prior recipients have included many renowned health psychologists, such as Robert Kaplan, Kelly Brownell, Margaret Chesney, Karen Matthews, Andrew Baum, Sheldon Cohen, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Susan Lutgendorf, Willem Kop, Elissa Epel, and Julienne Bower, among others. Dr. Slavich will be presented with an award plaque and cash prize at the 2017 convention of the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC.

Dr. Slavich was nominated for the award by Dr. Michael Irwin, M.D., the Cousins Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.

Award Announcement:

It is a pleasure to announce Dr. George Slavich as the 2017 recipient of Early Career Professional Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology.

George is an accomplished early career health psychologist whose outstanding publication record is punctuated by several highly impactful articles that integrate across social, neural, immunologic, genetic, and genomic levels of analysis to elucidate psychological and biological mechanisms underlying human health.

Most notable, George is generating new knowledge, ideas, and theories that are helping define new frontiers in health psychology, as evidenced for example in his and Dr. Irwin’s comprehensive review in Psychological Bulletin, published in 2014. This vast review, already cited over 350 times, describes the first fully integrated, multi-level theory of depression, called Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression. 

Additionally, George’s original work has begun to identify the full set of psychological and biological mechanisms linking social stress and disease, which cut across all major levels of analysis in a highly integrated and sophisticated manner. For example, George has discovered what brain regions underlie inflammatory responses to social stress, as published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America. He has further shown that targeted rejection life events reach deep inside the body to activate intracellular signaling molecules that regulate systemic inflammation.

Moreover, it is important to note that George has pioneered new methodologies for the assessment of adverse life experiences. Most recently, he created the first online system for assessing lifetime stress exposure. This system, called the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN), systematically asks people about different types of stressors that they may have experienced since childhood. The STRAIN is now extensively utilized in several NIH-funded projects, as recognized by his leadership as Associate Director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA)-Supported Stress Measurement Network.

Not surprising given the strengths of George’s innovative and impactful scholarship, he has received several competitive awards from the National Institutes of Health, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, and several other private foundations. He has also received numerous other early career research awards, including the Neal E. Miller New Investigator Award from the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.

George is also a gifted teacher. For example, he has been awarded the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences Outstanding Research Mentor Award, Outstanding Undergraduate Student Teaching Award, and Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award, which speak to his generatively in training new investigators.

In closing, George has enormous upside potential, and we anticipate that he will continue his work and emerge as a leading scientist in health psychology in the years to come.

Dr. Slavich Organizes Unique Scientific Meeting on Human Health

Lab director, Dr. George Slavich, recently organized a unique one-day scientific meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, titled Integrated Multi-Level Approaches to Psychosocial Processes & Health, which featured several renowned speakers from Stanford University, Harvard University, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the National Institutes of Health. An overview of the meeting and the speaker biosketches are below!

 

Overview

The development of new tools for measuring the activity of neural and peripheral systems in the human body is beginning to revolutionize research on psychosocial processes and health. Whereas studies on social, psychological, and affective processes were once limited to one or two levels of analysis, research is now beginning to integrate across multiple levels to elucidate the full set of neural, physiologic, immunologic, molecular, genetic, and genomic mechanisms linking social-environmental experiences with human health and behavior. These studies have the ability to inform the development of new theories on important topics, but numerous challenges also exist.

This meeting will explore these opportunities and challenges by bringing together some of the brightest minds in integrated, multi-level research today. The meeting will include invited talks on cutting-edge approaches to studying mental health, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and aging, given by several renowned investigators including Drs. George Church (Harvard University/MIT), Ian Gotlib (Stanford University), Anil Sood (MD Anderson Cancer Center), and Laura Kubzansky (Harvard University). A pioneer in integrated, multi-level research, Dr. Michael Snyder (Stanford University), will describe the relevance of this work for “precision health,” and NIH program officers including Janine Simmons (NIMH), Paige Green (NCI), and Lisa Onken (NIA) will discuss current and future NIH funding priorities on these topics. Finally, a selection of short flash talks will be presented by faculty and students from across the country.

Invited Speakers

Ian Gotlib, PhD
Stanford University
Multi-level approaches to Mental Health 

Dr. Ian Gotlib is a world-renowned expert on psychological and neurobiological mechanisms underlying risk for depression and anxiety in adolescence and adulthood. Originally from Ontario, Canada, he received his bachelor’s degree (with honors) in psychology from the University of Western Ontario and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Waterloo. He came to Stanford in 1996, where he is presently David Starr Jordan Professor, Chair of the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology Laboratory. He has published more than 500 articles, chapters, and books, the most recent of which have introduced us to fascinating new concepts like “intergenerational neuroimaging” while spanning multiple levels of analysis, including social-psychological, neural, and molecular processes. This work has had an enormous impact and helped researchers better understand why certain individuals are at greater risk for psychopathology, and how we can in turn use this information to reduce the prevalence of disorders like depression, which is presently the leading cause of disease burden worldwide.

Laura Kubzansky, PhD
Harvard University
Multi-level approaches to Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Laura Kubzansky is most well-known for pioneering new ways of understanding how psychosocial, biological, and environmental processes interact to shape health in a variety of contexts, including human aging, health disparities, stress resilience, the effects of led and air pollution exposure on health, and – perhaps most prominently – risk for cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kubzansky received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan, and completed post-doctoral work in social epidemiology and her M.P.H. at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is presently the Lee Kum Kee Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Society and Health Laboratory at Harvard. Most recently, she was named Co-Director of the JPB Environmental Health Fellowship Program at Harvard and Co-Director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, which was recently seeded with a generous $21 million endowment from Lee Kum Kee, who invented the oyster sauce that thousands of families have used over the years. Dr. Kubzansky published more than 30 articles in 2016 alone, and what’s most impressive is that these articles have appeared in a wide variety of outlets – from Nature Genetics, to Circulation, to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Anil Sood, MD
MD Anderson Cancer Center
Multi-level approaches to Cancer

Dr. Anil Sood is a renowned expert in the effects that neuroendocrine stress hormones have on ovarian cancer growth and progression, and in the development of novel anti-vascular therapeutic approaches for treating ovarian cancer, which is presently the most deadly of all female reproductive system cancers. Dr. Sood received his bachelor’s degree at Davidson College and his MD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He subsequently completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida and a fellowship in gynecologic oncology at the University of Iowa. Currently, Dr. Sood is Professor and Vice Chair for Translational Research in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology & Reproductive Medicine at the world-renowned University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is also Director of the Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program and Co-Director of the Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNA. His laboratory was among the first to discover that stress hormones can directly influence ovarian cancer cells via beta-adrenergic receptor signaling, which has implications for understanding angiogenesis, tumor growth, and metastasis. Of his more than 440 publications listed in PubMed, 80 are from 2016 or 2017 alone.

Michael Snyder, PhD
Stanford University
Multi-level Integration & Precision Health 

Dr. Michael Snyder developed many of the functional genomic and proteomic approaches being used today. Originally from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Dr. Snyder received his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biology at the University of Rochester, and his Ph.D. in Biology from Cal Tech. He was recruited from Yale to Stanford in 2009, where he is presently Stanford Ascherman Professor, Chair of the Department of Genetics, and Director of the Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine. His laboratory was the first to perform a large-scale functional genomics project in any organism, which launched the now-burgeoning field of functional genomics. His lab was also the first to set up protein and proteome microarrays for the large-scale characterization of protein function and antibody reactivity. In addition to this basic research, Dr. Snyder has pioneered the integration of different cutting-edge “omics” technologies and, in this context, he recently performed the first longitudinal “personal omics profiling study,” which produced nearly 2 billion measurements from 60 individuals who agreed to wear up to 8 different biosensors daily. Moreover, as the ultimate “citizen scientist,” Dr. Snyder participated in the study and, in doing so, watched as his own multi-level profiling approach begin to signal the onset of type-2 diabetes in his body… in real time. It was the first eyewitness account of the birth of a disease that affects millions.

George Church, PhD
Harvard University/MIT
Multi-level approaches to Aging

Dr. George Church is one of the most influential scientists living today. He grew up in Clearwater, Florida, and, in two years, completed bachelor’s degrees in zoology and chemistry at Duke University. He aimed to stay at Duke afterward for his graduate studies, but was spending up to 100 hours per week in the lab; as a result, he was withdrawn from the degree program in January 1976 and told, “[We] hope that whatever problems contributed to your lack of success at Duke will not keep you from a successful pursuit of a productive career.” Luckily for Dr. Church, he landed softly at Harvard University in 1977, where he completed a Ph.D. biochemistry and molecular biology. From there, Dr. Church went on to become the first person to directly sequence a genome. He co-initiated both the Human Genome Project in 1984 and President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative in 2011. Nearly all next-generation genome sequencing methods and companies are based on his groundbreaking work in human genetics and genomics. He has received numerous prestigious awards for this research and, just this month, was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people. He is presently the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Director of the NIH Center of Excellence in Genomic Science, and Director of the Personal Genome Project.

Paige Green, PhD
National Cancer Institute
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Paige Green is Chief of the Basic Biobehavioral & Psychological Sciences Branch in the Behavioral Research Program in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. Among her many honors and awards, Dr. Green received the 2015 NCI Knowledge Management Program Exceptional Mentor Award and the 2015 NIH Director’s Award for exemplary performance while demonstrating significant leadership, skill, and ability in serving as a mentor.

Lisa Onken, PhD
National Institute on Aging
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Lisa Onken serves as Director of the Behavior Change & Intervention Program in the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging. Prior to joining NIA, she was Chief of the Behavioral and Integrative Treatment Branch at NIDA, where she helped develop the NIH Stage Model, which focuses on the pipeline connecting translational basic research to clinical research. She also played a pivotal role in defining the goals and objectives of the NIH Science of Behavior Change Common Fund Program.

Janine Simmons, MD, PhD
National Institute of Mental Health
NIH Research Priorities & Funding Opportunities

Dr. Janine Simmons is a physician who is board-certified in Psychiatry and Neurology. She is presently Chief of the Affect, Social Behavior and Social Cognition Program in the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science at the National Institute of Mental Health. Among her various honors and roles, she was selected as one of only 12 people to serve on the NIH work group that developed the NIMH RDoC initiative, which has been a primary driving force behind multi-level research on mental health and human behavior.

Dr. Slavich Featured in New Documentary on Depression and the Immune System

The World Health Organization (WHO) has named depression a leading cause of disease burden worldwide. This is partly because of the cognitive and affective symptoms of depression that can severely impair functioning, such as fatigue and suicidal thoughts. However, depression is also associated with increased risk for a variety of serious medical conditions, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Recently, lab director Dr. George Slavich and colleagues have pioneered new ways of understanding why depression is associated with physical health problems by focusing on the immune system. Specifically, they have examined how stress causes increases in inflammation and how inflammation in turn increases risk for poor health.

This body of work was recently the focus of a new one-hour documentary on Arte TV, called “New Hope for Depression.” Enjoy it here!

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Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

A New Vaccine for Preventing Stress? Slavich Discusses the Topic with NPR

Stress increases a person’s risk for a variety of mental and physical health problems that cause substantial morbidity and mortality, including depression, heart disease, certain cancers, and neurodegenerative disorders. Interventions aimed at reducing the effects of stress on health typically focus on individuals who already have stress-related health problems. But, what if there was a vaccine that could prevent such problems from occurring in the first place? Would you take it?

As it turns out, such a solution may be in our future. Researchers have begun developing so called “stress vaccines” that could one day increase a person’s resilience to stress and possibly prevent stress-related disorders like depression and PTSD from ever taking hold. But, do such vaccines actually work? And, if so, what would be the potential pros and cons of altering people’s reactions to stress?

To explore the cutting-edge topic in stress prevention and research, lab director, Dr. George Slavich, recently spoke with AirTalk host, Larry Mantle, on NPR (Listen Here).

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Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

 

New Review Suggests Meditation May Influence Immune System Activity

Mindfulness meditation represents an increasingly popular strategy for dealing with life’s challenges. Recent research has suggested that mindfulness meditation may have beneficial effects on emotional wellbeing. But, how deep do these effects go? Can mindfulness meditation influence immune system processes that directly affect health?

In their new article appearing in the prestigious journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Drs. David Black (USC) and George Slavich (UCLA) conducted the first comprehensive review of all existing randomized controlled studies that have been done on the topic. The review included data from 1,602 participants. The data revealed that mindfulness meditation appears to influence some mechanisms that are known to underlie human disease and aging. However, existing studies are limited and additional research is needed to confirm these effects.

Of the effects that were detected, mindfulness meditation appeared to most reliably lead to the following four changes in immune system function: reductions in the activity of the cellular transcription factor NF-κB, which is known to drive inflammation; reductions in circulating levels of CRP, which is a key marker of systemic inflammatory activity; increases in CD4+ T cell count (in HIV-diagnosed individuals); and increases in telomerase activity, which is thought to potentially reverse biological aging.

Considered together, these data point to promising areas of future investigation. However, the authors caution against exaggerating the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on immune system dynamics until these effects are further replicated and additional studies are performed.

Dr. Black is an assistant professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where he directs the BioMind Lab.

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

ARTICLE DOWNLOAD LINKS

pdfMindfulness Meditation and the Immune System: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

internetArticle Website

Slavich Wins Three Early Career Investigator Awards

George SlavichThe Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research is proud to announce that laboratory director, Dr. George M. Slavich, Ph.D., has received three prestigious early career investigator awards. The awards are from the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, Society for Research in Psychopathology, and Society of Behavioral Medicine, and they recognize outstanding early career contributions to clinical psychology, psychopathology, and behavioral medicine research. These awards are described in more detail below:

2015 Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology Susan Nolen-Hoeksema Early Career Research Award

The Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology is one of the oldest organizations in the United States devoted to promoting empirical research in clinical psychology, integrating research with clinical practice, and according science a central role in the training of clinical psychologists. Members of the Society are world-renowned clinical scientists and direct many of the clinical psychology training programs in the United States. The Society’s Early Career Research Award is named for the late Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a Stanford University and later Yale University professor who conducted pioneering research on the role that cognitive and emotional processes play in depression. She is best known for her groundbreaking work on rumination. The Early Career Research Award named in her memory recognizes a young investigator and Society member who has made exceptional contributions to the science of clinical psychology. Nominees are evaluated with respect to having taken groundbreaking conceptual or theoretical approaches to solving a problem, making innovative methodological contributions to clinical psychology, and publishing highly significant and impactful empirical findings. In addition, nominees are judged with respect to their publications, grants, awards, scientific presentations, and positions attained since receipt of their Ph.D. Dr. Slavich is the second recipient of this coveted award. The previous winner was Katie McLaughlin.

2015 Society for Research in Psychopathology Early Career Award

The Society for Research in Psychopathology is one of the most prestigious organization in the United States devoted to the scientific study of psychopathology. Members of the Society are leading experts in the characterization of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. The Society’s Early Career Award recognizes excellence and promise in psychopathology research by an early career member who has successfully developed an independent and impactful program of research. Early career clinical scientists are nominated for the award by Society members and evaluated according to the productivity, innovation, and significance of their research program. Dr. Slavich is the sixth recipient of this prestigious award. Previous winners include S. Alexandra Burt, Jennifer Tackett, June Gruber, Stewart Shankman, and Brian Hicks.

2015 Society of Behavioral Medicine Early Career Investigator Award

The Society of Behavioral Medicine is the premier scientific organization for more than 2,200 behavioral and biomedical researchers and clinicians who study the interactions of behavioral, physiological, and biochemical states in shaping human health, morbidity, and mortality. Selection for the Society’s Early Career Investigator Award is based on a comprehensive review the total career achievement of the nominated applicant, and a review of a representative published paper that exemplifies scientific rigor and innovation, is an original research investigation, and makes a significant contribution to the field of behavioral medicine. Dr. Slavich was selected for his professional achievements to date and for his 2010 paper published in the leading scientific journal, PNAS, which was the first to elucidate neural mechanisms underlying inflammatory responses to social stress. Dr. Slavich is the twenty-seventh recipient of this highly-selective award. Previous winners include Gregory Miller, Edith Chen, Alan Christensen, Michael Antoni, Joshua Smyth, Eli Puterman, and Janet Tomiyama.

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Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

Slavich Identifies Inflammation as Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

It has long been known that stress increases a person’s risk for several psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as numerous physical disease conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, and stroke. At the same time, it has been unclear exactly how these effects occur.

In a new article published in the leading psychoneuroimmunology journal, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, Dr. George Slavich argues that components of the immune system involved in inflammation may represent a common mechanism linking stress with several different diseases. Dr. Slavich goes on to describe the importance of better understanding these links.

“All told, inflammation is involved in at least 8 of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States today,” writes Dr. Slavich. “Understanding how inflammation promotes poor health, and how and when we can intervene to reduce inflammation-related disease risk, should thus be a top scientific and public priority.”

Several multi-level theories of inflammation and health have been recently proposed to shed light on how stress influences the immune system to promote poor health. Dr. Slavich writes that to realize the full potential of this work for improving human health, “we must continue to push the boundaries of scientific enquiry by conducting studies that are increasingly integrated, multi-level, and multidisciplinary, and that link inflammatory and related processes with important health outcomes.”

Dr. Slavich is an associate professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

ARTICLE DOWNLOAD LINKS

pdfUnderstanding Inflammation, its Regulation, and Relevance for Health: A Top Scientific and Public Priority

internetArticle Website

Flipped Keynote: Depression from a Socialneuroimmunologic Perspective

Dr. George Slavich recently gave a Flipped Keynote Address, titled “Depression from a Socialneuroimmunologic Perspective.” It was for the 2014 Neuroscience of Youth Depression Conference, hosted at the Rizzo Conference Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on October 11th, 2014.

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Slavich & Irwin Propose a Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression

PsychBull_LogoDepression is one of the most common and costly of all psychiatric disorders, afflicting more than 15 million Americans and 350 million people worldwide each year. Depression also frequently co-occurs with several physical health conditions that, together with the disorder itself, cause substantial morbidity and mortality. Identifying biobehavioral factors that can be targeted to prevent and treat depression is thus very important.

In a new review article published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, Dr. George Slavich and Dr. Michael Irwin describe the social, neural, physiologic, molecular, and genomic mechanisms that underlie depression and the many physical disease conditions that typically co-occur with this disorder. The review provides the basis for a social signal transduction theory of depression, which describes how social-environmental factors activate biological processes that lead to depression.

Central to this social signal transduction theory of depression is the hypothesis that experiences of social threat and adversity upregulate components of the immune system involved in inflammation. The key mediators of this response, called pro-inflammatory cytokines, can in turn elicit profound changes in behavior, which include the initiation of depressive symptoms such as sad mood, anhedonia, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, and social-behavioral withdrawal.

As described in the article, this highly conserved biological response to adversity is critical for survival during times of actual physical threat or injury. However, this response can also be activated by modern-day social, symbolic, or imagined threats, leading to an increasingly pro-inflammatory phenotype that may be a key phenomenon driving depression pathogenesis and recurrence, as well as the overlap of depression with several somatic conditions including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and neurodegeneration.

Insights from this theory may thus shed light on several important questions including how depression develops, why it frequently recurs, why it is strongly predicted by early life stress, and why it often co-occurs with symptoms of anxiety and with certain physical disease conditions.

“We have long known that depression can be highly recurrent, and that it frequently co-occurs with a number of other mental and physical health problems,” said Slavich. “Social signal transduction theory of depression attempts to explain this phenomenon by elucidating the social and biological processes that underlie this disorder.”

In the article, Slavich and Irwin say that the theory may also suggest new opportunities for preventing and treating depression by targeting inflammation.

Dr. George Slavich is an assistant professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA. He is also a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, where he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

Dr. Michael Irwin is Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Professor of Psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences, Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology in the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.

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pdfFrom Stress to Inflammation and Major Depressive Disorder: A Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression

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Lifetime Stress Exposure Predicts Persistent Fatigue in Breast Cancer

Persistent fatigue, characterized by overwhelming and sustained exhaustion, is a common and often debilitating side-effect of breast cancer treatment. Risk factors for cancer-related fatigue remain largely unknown, however, even though there are approximately 13.7 million cancer survivors living in the United States today.

In a new study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, Dr. Julienne Bower and Dr. George Slavich examined the role lifetime stress exposure plays in cancer-related fatigue. Results revealed that women with persistent fatigue have significantly higher levels of stress, in both childhood and adulthood, than non-fatigued control participants. The data thus suggest that stress occurring over the life course may play an important role in promoting symptoms of fatigue in the context of cancer.

To investigate how stress impacts fatigue, Drs. Bower and Slavich examined the life histories of 50 breast cancer survivors using an online stress assessment system that Dr. Slavich developed, called the Stress and Adversity Inventory, or STRAIN. The STRAIN is based on state-of-the-art methods for assessing life stress and measures individuals’ lifetime exposure to 96 types of acute and chronic stressors that may have implications for health. Fatigue status, in turn, was assessed by asking individuals standardized, clinically relevant questions regarding the extent to which they “felt full of pep,” “felt worn out,” “felt tired,” and “had a lot of energy” during the past four weeks.

“Women with breast cancer can experience high levels of stress, but the effects these experiences have on clinical outcomes in cancer are rarely assessed,” said Slavich. “In this study, therefore, we aimed to understand all of the major stressors that each patient experienced over their lifetime and how those experiences in turn impacted their health and well-being.”

The data collected revealed that fatigued breast cancer survivors reported significantly higher levels of stress in both childhood and adulthood compared to their non-fatigued counterparts. Prior research on this topic has shown that traumatic life events impact clinical functioning in cancer. In the paper, Drs. Bower and Slavich note that the present study extends this prior research by showing that more common, non-traumatic stressors occurring over the lifespan can also influence clinical outcomes in the context of cancer.

“Although these results do not highlight the specific mechanisms that might link stress and fatigue in breast cancer,” Slavich said, “they do suggest that life stress is a risk factor for cancer-related fatigue that should be routinely assessed in the course of all cancer treatment.”

The study was supported by the University of California Cancer Research Coordinating Committee, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute Grant R01-CA160427 awarded to Dr. Bower, NIH/National Institute of General Medical Sciences Grant T32-GM084903 awarded to study co-author Alexandra Dupont, and by a Society in Science–Branco Weiss Fellowship awarded to Dr. Slavich.

Dr. Julienne Bower is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at UCLA and a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.

Dr. George Slavich is an assistant professor and Society in Science – Branco Weiss Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLAHe is also a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunologywhere he directs the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.

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Childhood Adversity and Cumulative Life Stress: Risk Factors for Cancer-Related Fatigue

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