The focus of our research is to identify mechanisms underpinning the biological embedding of stress, or ‘how stress gets under the skin’, and its effect on health and aging. Our research integrates the disciplines of molecular genetics, endocrinology, neurobiology and psychology. We employ multiple behavioral, physiological and molecular measurements to describe the stress response and its sequelae by using longitudinal observational studies and laboratory-based experiments. The goal of our research is to pinpoint behavioral and molecular targets for public health observation and clinical treatments aimed at understanding and mitigating the consequences of stress on health and aging.
Funded projects and collaborations of note include:
(1) A recently funded National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH/NIEHS) Research Project Cooperative Agreement (U01) grant (Shalev PI). The aim of the project, The Comparability and Reproducibility of Telomere Length Measurements for Population-based Studies, is to improve methodological understandings by investigating how different tissues and processing techniques contribute to variation in determined telomere length from birth to old age. This proposal will fill critical gaps in the field by testing salient methodological aspects to help reveal optimal tissue cells for population-based research, clarify technical laboratory procedures, enable comparison between measurement methods, and advance a set of guidelines for measuring telomere length as part of the Telomere Research Network consortium.
(2) A funded NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Specialized Center (P50) grant (Noll PI, Shalev Co-I). Through a large-scale partnership with the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, a main goal of this center grant, NIH CAPSTONE Center for Multidisciplinary Research and Training in Child Abuse and Neglect, is to recruit a prospective cohort of 1,200 maltreated and comparison children, aimed at elucidating the multiple etiological processes believed to play a role in the onset and maintenance of adverse health outcomes in victims. To investigate the biological embedding of child maltreatment, our lab processes and analyzes blood, urine and saliva samples to determine telomere length, telomerase activity, mitochondria-related markers, as well as omics measures of metabolomics and RNA sequencing.
(3) A funded NIH/National Institute on Aging (NIA) Exploratory/ Developmental Research Grant Award (R21) ((Shalev PI, Ram and Albert Co-Is). The aim of the project, Temporal Genomics Mechanisms Underlying Disease and Aging, is to identify genomic mechanisms involved in young adults’ response to stress, as moderated by early adversity. We are testing whether individuals exposed to early-life adversity show dysregulated changes in gene expression in response to a well-established laboratory stressor, compared with a no-stress control condition, and compared with individuals without exposure to early adversity.
(4) A project funded by the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State (Shalev PI, Noll Co-I). Its aim is to test whether child sexual abuse is associated with telomere length in adulthood, and to test the hypothesis of intergenerational transmission of trauma by measuring telomere length in children of sexually abused mothers compared to children of non-abused mothers. Specifically, we are testing telomere length in mothers exposed to sexual abuse and their children.
(5) A project funded by the Sara van Dam Foundation (Beijers, Radboud University, Netherlands PI, Shalev Co-I), Basal Influences on the Baby Development. This prospective study followed 193 mothers and their children from pregnancy until the last assessment at age 10. Its aim was to test early-life factors associated with children’s socio-emotional development, cognition, and pubertal development, including molecular mechanisms underlying this link such as telomere length and epigenetics.