UCI nursing researcher receives prestigious national award to study genetic effects of traumatic stress on cardiovascular disorders
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant builds on Alison Holman’s study of coping with Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
E. Alison Holman, an assistant professor in UC Irvine’s Program in Nursing Science and a health psychologist, has been selected to receive a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars award to study how genes influence acute and post-traumatic stress and their role in cardiovascular disorders among those who experience traumatic events.
Holman is one of 12 nurse educators in the U.S. to receive the three-year $350,000 award this year. It is given to junior faculty members who show outstanding promise as future leaders in academic nursing.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” said Holman. “The support I receive will give me the time and mentoring that I need to explore genetic processes that help explain why some people who experience trauma are more prone to mental and physical problems than others who experience those same events.”
For her project, Holman will examine genetic predictors of acute stress response and cardiovascular disorders such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. The goal is to identify genetic markers that link acute stress and cardiovascular disorders following exposure to traumatic events. Ultimately, the findings would be used to identify people who may benefit from pharmacologic interventions that help prevent the onset of post-traumatic stress and cardiovascular disorders.
Holman’s research builds on a three-year study she and her colleagues conducted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. In that project, she followed a representative sample of more than 2,700 people nationwide and found that people who experienced high levels of acute stress immediately after the attacks were more likely to report new-onset cardiovascular disorders in the three years following the attacks.
“I suspect there’s a window of time after a traumatic event in which health professionals can intervene to prevent people who are genetically susceptible to certain stress-related illnesses from acquiring them,” Holman said. “This project will help us learn if it is possible to use genetics to identify vulnerable people and whether targeted pharmacologic interventions can prevent mental and physical health problems among people who experience acute stress.”
Ellen Olshansky, professor and director of the nursing science program, and Daniele Piomelli, the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences at UCI, will serve as Holman’s mentors.
“Alison Holman’s study represents an important step in understanding the genetic links between mental and physical disorders,” Olshansky said. “Her research is timely and significant and has the potential to improve the health of people who experience trauma in their lives.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars program aims to strengthen the academic productivity and overall excellence of nursing schools by developing the next generation of national leaders in academic nursing.
To receive the award, scholars must be registered nurses who have completed a research doctorate in nursing or a related discipline and who have held a tenure-eligible faculty position at an accredited nursing school for at least two and no more than five years.
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