Grantees: Judith Carroll and Julienne Bower

Judith Carroll

Judith Carroll, Ph.D.

Biological and Health Psychologist
BBPSB FEATURED GRANTEE
Organization:
  • University of California - Los Angeles

Current Title
Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences
University of California, Los Angeles

Describe your scientific identity.
I am a biological and health psychologist and I conduct research at the intersection of psychoneuroimmunology and biological aging with a focus on biobehavioral factors that might impact aging. By tracking the aging process within this biobehavioral framework, my work seeks to identify what behavioral factors (e.g., sleep disturbances, stress) contribute to the rate at which people age, and with this information then target these factors as a means to prevent or delay the onset of disease and disability. My approach to understanding how behaviors in humans influence the aging process uses multiple levels of assessment to measure biological aging within the regulatory system (e.g., cardiovascular, metabolic) and within the underlying cellular networks (e.g., epigenetic age, telomere length attrition, mitochondrial function, DNA damage, senescence).

What are your research interests?
Psychoneuroimmunology, sleep disturbances, insomnia, chronic stress, early life adversity, biological aging, geroscience, inflammation, cancer survivorship.

What is the significance of your current research project?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and with advances in detection and treatment there are now estimated to be more than 3 million breast cancer survivors in the US. However, treatments can also increase risk for long-term and late toxicities, including problems with cognitive function and elevated prevalence of physical complaints such as fatigue, pain, and limitations in physical activities that interfere with quality of life. One possible explanation recently proposed is that the toxicity of cancer treatments may directly accelerate the aging process in some patients, leading to earlier onset of age-related cognitive and physical symptoms. However, this hypothesis has not been rigorously tested in clinical populations of breast cancer survivors. Our study will examine the effects of common breast cancer treatments as they relate to markers of biological aging (e.g., epigenetic aging, DNA damage, cell senescence), inflammation, and reports of physical and cognitive complaints in a prospective study of breast cancer patients assessed prior to and after exposure to chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Secondary analyses will examine whether distinct behavioral factors might influence vulnerability, offering insight into places to intervene and protect from accelerated aging. Understanding the relationship of biological aging with cognitive and physical health outcomes, and the role of modifiable behavioral factors, has implications for future interventions designed to mitigate morbidity associated with these biomarker risk profiles in breast cancer patients. Together, these data will guide the management and prevention of adverse lasting symptoms impacting quality of life in breast cancer survivors.

What motivated you to work in biobehavioral or psychological science research?
I was first motivated to work in biobehavioral research when I was an undergraduate student. It was in a class where I heard about research that demonstrated a significant impact of our thoughts and behaviors on our physical health and disease risk. I then realized I had an innate curiosity for understanding the basic biological mechanisms that connect the mind and body.

Describe something that had a profound influence on your program of research or scientific interests (an "ah-ha!" moment).
I've had many "ah-ha" moments. One of the first moments that was probably most instrumental in influencing my program of research was a conversation with my grandfather, who was 82 at the time and had recently lost his wife. As we were discussing his health and the bereavement support group, he said to me "You know some of us seem to be doing a lot better with this than others". He went on to explain to me that he noticed not only did some widows seem to be doing better psychologically, but also physically. This moment has inspired me to find out what is it that makes some of us seemingly age much faster than others, and what role does individual emotional experiences and behaviors play in driving this.

Selected training, awards, and honors:

  • M.S., Biopsychology and Aging, Sonoma State University (2003)
  • Ph.D., Biological & Health Psychology, University of Pittsburgh (2010)
  • NRSA Post-doctoral fellowship, Psychoneuroimmunology, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles (2010-2013)
  • Robert Ader New Investigator Award, Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society (2019)


I was first motivated to work in biobehavioral research as an undergraduate student when I heard about research that demonstrated a significant impact of our thoughts and behaviors on our physical health and disease risk. I then realized I had an innate curiosity for understanding the basic biological mechanisms that connect the mind and body.”
Co-Principal Investigator:
Julienne Bower

Julienne Bower, Ph.D.

Clinical and Health Psychologist
Organization:
  • University of California - Los Angeles

Current Title
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry/Biobehavioral Sciences
University of California, Los Angeles

Describe your scientific identity.
I am a clinical and health psychologist with expertise in psychoneuroimmunology and cancer survivorship. My research examines the bidirectional interactions between the brain and the immune system and their implications for mental and physical health, with a focus on the role of inflammation in cancer-related symptoms (e.g., fatigue, depression, cognitive function) as well as cancer progression. I am particularly interested in risk and resilience factors that can influence these neuro-immune interactions and the use of mind-body interventions to enhance health and well-being in cancer patients and survivors.

What are your research interests?
Cancer survivorship, psychoneuroimmunology, fatigue/depression, early life stress, positive psychology and resilience, mind-body interventions.

What is the significance of your current research project?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and with advances in detection and treatment there are now estimated to be more than 3 million breast cancer survivors in the US. However, treatments can also increase risk for long-term and late toxicities, including problems with cognitive function and elevated prevalence of physical complaints such as fatigue, pain, and limitations in physical activities that interfere with quality of life. One possible explanation recently proposed is that the toxicity of cancer treatments may directly accelerate the aging process in some patients, leading to earlier onset of age-related cognitive and physical symptoms. However, this hypothesis has not been rigorously tested in clinical populations of breast cancer survivors. Our study will examine the effects of common breast cancer treatments as they relate to markers of biological aging (e.g., epigenetic aging, DNA damage, cell senescence), inflammation, and reports of physical and cognitive complaints in a prospective study of breast cancer patients assessed prior to and after exposure to chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Secondary analyses will examine whether distinct behavioral factors might influence vulnerability, offering insight into places to intervene and protect from accelerated aging. Understanding the relationship of biological aging with cognitive and physical health outcomes, and the role of modifiable behavioral factors, has implications for future interventions designed to mitigate morbidity associated with these biomarker risk profiles in breast cancer patients. Together, these data will guide the management and prevention of adverse lasting symptoms impacting quality of life in breast cancer survivors.

What motivated you to work in biobehavioral or psychological science research?
I have always been interested in science and fell in love with neuroscience as an undergraduate. I realized that I was particularly interested in interactions between the mind and body and found my way to the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) in graduate school. I was fortunate to work with an amazing oncologist during my training, Dr. Patricia Ganz, who helped me to apply PNI models to cancer survivorship.

Describe something that had a profound influence on your program of research or scientific interests (an "ah-ha!" moment).
I get very excited when I see connections between different areas of research that I think will move the field forward. I remember hearing Dr. Norman Sharpless present on accelerated aging several years ago, which provided a new perspective for my work on cancer-related fatigue and sparked my interest in examining biological aging in women with breast cancer. Similarly, after learning about preclinical work on stress as a promoter of cancer progression I was motivated to examine these relationships in my own research, focusing on links between stress and aspects of the tumor microenvironment. These are the "ah ha" moments that really inspire me; when I am able to translate findings from one area of study and apply them in a clinical context.

Selected training, awards, and honors:

  • PhD, Clinical Psychology, UCLA
  • NIMH Postdoctoral fellowship in Psychoneuroimmunology, Cousins Center for PNI, UCLA
  • NCI K07 Career Development Award
  • Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society New Investigator Award
  • Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology, American Psychological Association
  • George F. Solomon Professorship of Psychobiology


Understanding the relationship of biological aging with cognitive and physical health outcomes, and the role of modifiable behavioral factors, has implications for future interventions designed to mitigate morbidity associated with these biomarker risk profiles in breast cancer patients.”



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