UCLA Health researchers to study the impact of stress on health

A three-year $3 million award from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research will support UCLA’s research to address toxic stress and increase resilience
Child sitting

Researchers at UCLA Health have been awarded $3 million from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to develop a statewide stress surveillance system and establish a network of physicians and scientists to study how stress impacts the body and what can be done to increase resiliency.   

“Stress is among the leading causes of disability and death in California, especially if experienced early on in life,” said George Slavich, PhD, lead principal investigator and Founding Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior at UCLA. “This project combines the best of stress science and precision medicine to address the health impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences.” 

The competitive grant was awarded as part of OPR’s California Initiative to Advance Precision Medicine (CIAPM) for the prevention and treatment of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) in August. UCLA was among seven collaborative demonstration projects selected at multiple institutions across the state to receive funding over three years to help drive innovative, community-driven research.

According to a data report on ACE’s by the California Department of Public Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Branch, more than 60 percent of Californians have experienced at least one ACE such as a parent’s mental illness or a divorce, and 16.7 percent have experienced four or more. Despite general agreement that stress is harmful, stress levels are rarely assessed by doctors and exactly how stress impacts human health remains unclear.

To address the negative health impacts of ACEs, Dr. Slavich and his team will develop the California Stress, Trauma and Resilience (CAL STAR) Network to study, treat and educate health professionals and community members about toxic stress.

This statewide network of scientists and clinicians will also look to uncover how stress affects bodily systems, from the gut to the heart to the brain, and to develop precision medicine interventions for such issues. The UCLA led team will partner with Stanford University, UCSF, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and UC Health on the research.

“By pursuing these goals, we seek to level the playing field for all Californians and give people the tools they need to realize their fullest potential,” said Dr. Slavich.

Other key investigators on the project include Michael Snyder, PhD, the Stanford W. Ascherman Professor and Chair of Genetics at Stanford University; Atul Butte, MD, PhD, the Priscilla Chan & Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics, Bioengineering & Therapeutic Sciences, and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at UCSF; Patricia Lester, MD, the Jane & Marc Nathanson Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA; Alicia Lieberman, PhD, the Irving B. Harris Endowed Chair in Infant Mental Health at UCSF; and Shannon Thyne, MD, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at UCLA.