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Lisa Christian, PhD

Award Name CCTS Pilot 2009
Award Date 04/01/2009

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Adaptation of Stress Response During Pregnancy

Lisa Christian, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, has been awarded a one-year pilot grant by the Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Christian will be using this grant to study physiological reactivity to acute stress in pregnant women.

The preterm birth rate for African-American women is 18% compared with 11% in Caucasian women, which cannot be explained by health behaviors or other demographic characteristics. Christian believes chronic stress that occurs because of racial minority status may affect the body’s ability to deal with stress while pregnant, leading to these increased rates.

The study will observe 80 women, 40 pregnant and 40 non-pregnant, split equally into African-American and Caucasian participants. Christian will describe adaptations of cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune stress responses during pregnancy compared to non-pregnancy and racial differences in those adaptations.

Each woman in the study will be exposed to an acute stressor for 15 minutes.

“The stressor involves a mock job interview and is designed to be no different than common stress encountered in everyday life,” Christian said.

Christian expects that African-American women will show greater reactivity to stress than Caucasian women. Blood pressure, glucocorticoid (a type of steroid hormone) and catecholamine (hormones released by the adrenal glands) responses to stress are generally reduced during pregnancy. The magnitude in which African-American women respond to stress may explain the higher rate of preterm birth.

Data collection for this study will take two years to complete. Christian received an R21 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) a few months after receiving the pilot grant, which will fund data collection.

“The pilot funds have allowed me to get the study set up sooner and will allow me to add additional analyses, including immune control of latent viruses (EBV & CMV),” Christian said.

With further research, this data could be helpful in creating interventions targeting stress, resulting in better maternal and fetal health.

By Samantha Smith, Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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