RESEARCH PROJECTS


Psychosocial Stress and Lupus Among African American Women (PI: Chae, David H. )

Systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multisystem, chronic, autoimmune disease characterized by stark disparities along racial and gender lines. African American women not only have a higher prevalence of SLE, but also experience greater severity and faster progression compared to their White counterparts, being more frequently affected by organ damage and comorbid conditions that emerge as a consequence of disease activity and disease-related chronic inflammation and tissue damage. Racial disparities in SLE complications and mortality are well documented; however, the reasons for these disparities are poorly understood. To address these gaps in knowledge, this study investigates the role of racism-related psychosocial stressors experienced by African American women in exacerbating SLE in this population. This study examines relevant psychobiological stress mechanisms, including inflammatory pathways and the telomere maintenance system. This study represents the most in-depth investigation of the multifactorial nature of psychosocial stressors and their impact on SLE disease progression among African American women.

Psychobiology of Racial Minority Stress and Cellular Aging (PI: Chae, David H.)

This project integrates research on biomarkers of inflammation, endocrine stress markers, and leukocyte telomere length (LTL) – a novel indicator of aging at the cellular level – in epidemiologic studies of racial minority stress and health among African Americans. This research: (1) identifies inflammatory markers and endocrine markers of stress that cluster with LTL and predict aging-related health outcomes; (2) examines the impact of racial discrimination on LTL, in addition to psychological and biological mediators; and (3) explores other psychosocial factors associated with racial minority status that impact LTL and aging-related disease outcomes, including affective and cognitive responses to racial discrimination, coping, racial identity, in-group racial bias, and racial socialization.

Sleep and Child Developmental Outcomes: Physiological and Contextual Influences (PI: El-Sheikh, Mona)

Sleep deprivation in American children is a matter of national concern. There is a high prevalence of sleep insufficiency in children and daytime behavior, critical neurobehavioral functions, and academic achievement are impaired when children do not obtain adequate sleep. Emerging research suggests that sleep disturbances are also associated with children’s physiological dysregulation and physical health problems. However, investigations of developmental trajectories of emotional, behavioral, cognitive, or physical health outcomes associated with sleep disturbances in children are scarce. Further, the processes that mediate the associations between sleep disturbances and children’s cognitive functioning and mental and physical health, and variables that function as vulnerability or protective factors in these relations are little understood. A better understanding of the ethnic and socioeconomic context within which children experience sleep disturbances is needed to curb this public health problem. Indeed, sleep disturbances are more common among ethnic minorities and families of lower socioeconomic status, and the outcomes of sleep problems may be worse among these groups.
The Specific Aims are to: (1) examine linkages between various sleep parameters and developmental trajectories of adaptation and maladaptation; and (2) evaluate the extent to which these developmental processes operate for African American and White children and in the context of economic adversity.

College Student Health and Racial Disparities during Higher Educational Attainment (PI: Fuller-Rowell, Thomas E. )

Despite well-documented disparities in health between Black and White adults, very little research has examined the degree to which higher education mitigates or widens racial health disparities. Thus, the extent to which racial disparities are present among college students and increase across the college years is largely unknown. To address these knowledge gaps, this study examines changes in health across the college years among Black and White college students attending a predominantly White institution, and the role of college social climate and race-related stress. Health outcomes considered include sleep, body mass index and inflammation, as well as indicators of autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine functioning (e.g., HRV, EPI, NOREPI, CORT, SBP, DBP).