1. Human Clinical Research
The Human Clinical Research is under the direction of John Denninger, MD, PhD. He is assisted by Elyse Park, PhD, Chief of the Behavioral Health Section, and a team that includes Jonathan Lerner, PhD and Christina Psaros, PhD who are both research psychologists. There are five research assistants—Veronique Lepoutre, MS, Matthew Scult, Jessica Williett, Marissa Alert, and Nicole Hasheminejad. Collaborators include Jeff Dusek, PhD; Patricia Hibberd, MD, PhD; William Stason, MD, MPH, Randall Zusman, MD, John Levine, MD, PhD, Jeff Huffman, MD, Elizabeth Hoge, MD, and Jeffry Shaefer, DMD. Recent findings include:
- The covariance of diminished oxygen consumption with exhaled nitric oxide in those achieving RR.
- An 8 week RR training was successful in reducing systolic hypertension to the point that anti-hypertensive medication could be reduced in elderly subjects with this difficult to treat disorder.
- Our cardiac rehabilitation program was proven in a CMS supported study to reduce several cardiac risk factors.
Ongoing research includes:
- investigating whether a group RR intervention improves immune response to influenza vaccination for people 50+ years old;
- seeing if individual RR interventions can help control high blood pressure without medication and exploring possible underlying mechanisms;
- investigating the effects of a group RR intervention on reducing pain and improving functioning for people with chronic facial pain;
- looking at whether a group RR intervention improves Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms and leads to changes in physiology;
- investigating the effects of group RR intervention on depressive symptoms;
- testing a group RR intervention for women undergoing treatment for fertility to see if it improves emotional and physical stress levels;
- testing an individual RR intervention for reducing stress in women waiting to undergo breast biopsy exam;
- investigating the effects of an individual RR intervention on brain activation in areas related to attention in adults who have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD);
- investigating the physical and psychological changes resulting from individual RR intervention for healthy adults;
- looking at past data from RR clinical weight loss programs.
Mindful of the fact that certain settings are breeding grounds for high stress and attendant health consequences, we are committed to special research programs to improve health and enhance performance in schools, in the workplace and in the military. Marilyn Wilcher and Dr Elyse Park, building on successful past Institute research in diverse contexts ranging from South Central Los Angeles to Harvard University, have begun research studies at the Needham High School and in the Fenway School. Collaboration with the American Research Institute on an educational grant submission is anticipated. With funding from the Blackburn Foundation, we are focusing on employee health at the NStar Company, to look specifically at the impact of our Lighten Up Training Program on weight loss. BHI is also a research collaborator with the MGH Human Resources Department in their “Be Fit” Employee health program. Future projects include a collaboration with the Samueli Institute on training and research to address the clinical needs of returning soldiers with trauma spectrum disorders. We have visited the Brooke Army Medical Center and have been invited to propose a research program to help their staff avoid “compassion fatigue”.
An essential aspect of this Core Program is our Genomic, Epigenetic and Proteomic Program in collaboration with Towia Libermann, PhD and his Genetics Lab at BIDMC and the Broad Institute. In a recent ground breaking study published in the journal PLOSOne, our team was able to show that novice subjects after 8 weeks of RR training showed blood gene activation profiles consistent with reduced oxidative stress and reduced pro-inflammation. This pattern was in the same direction, although not as robust, as the gene expression profile of another cohort of long term users of a variety of meditative techniques. We are now embarking on a new generation of blood gene expression and methylation studies of all our subjects. Proteomic studies will then follow. We hope to be able to begin uncovering the causal links that explain the mind (stress, relaxation and resiliency)- body (clinical phenotypes) effects that we see in our clinical studies.
We are very aware of the need for us to develop electronic portals to deliver our “train the trainers” and clinical programs on-line to the large population in need of mind body interventions. We are committed to this effort and have started this process with a study funded by the Partners Connected Health Center looking at the acceptability and effectiveness of RR training delivered in the virtual world of Second Life.