BU researcher receives NIH grant to study childhood adversity and later life health outcomes

Children's Health

Lewina Lee, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston, has received a five-year, $3.5 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Aging to establish the Boston Early Adversity and Mortality Study (BEAMS).

Lee, along with co-principal investigator Daniel Mroczek, PhD, professor of medical social sciences and director of the Lifespan Personality and Health Lab at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, will build a unique “cradle-to-grave” dataset that tracks the life span of three Boston-based cohorts of men who have been followed by researchers for over half a century, and augment the dataset with information on their siblings. Using this rich dataset, the study team will evaluate whether and how childhood adversity in the socioeconomic, environmental and psychosocial domains bring about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, cardiometabolic disease and premature death in later life.

Scientists have been unable to fully understand the effects of early adversity on later-life health in large part because there is inadequate ‘lifespan data’ collected from birth to death to help map the sequelae of early adversity over age.”

Lewina Lee, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, Boston University School of Medicine

Bringing together three of the longest-running studies of adult lives, BEAMS will further enrich these studies with prospective information on early-life circumstances and later-life health through linkages to multiple administrative databases, such as Decennial Census, hospital birth records, and military records. “Given the wealth of mid- and later-life data we have already collected on these cohorts over decades, the cradle-to-grave dataset created in BEAMS will afford rare opportunities to test exceptionally long-term, explanatory pathways from early adversity to later-life health,” explained Mroczek.

Lee received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Southern California. She completed a clinical psychology internship at VA Palo Alto, followed by a postdoctoral research fellowship on stress, health and aging at the Boston University School of Public Health and VA Boston. Her research addresses how the effects of psychosocial stress exposure becomes biologically embedded to influence health across the lifespan, and factors that mitigate or exacerbate the effects of stress on health.

Mroczek received his PhD in developmental and personality psychology from Boston University. He followed his graduate work at BU with a postdoctoral fellowship in epidemiology at the University of Michigan. Prior to Northwestern, Mroczek held the Berners-Hanley Professorship of Gerontology at Purdue University and before that was a psychology professor at Fordham University. At Northwestern, Mroczek holds a joint appointment across the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences (where he is professor of psychology) and the Feinberg School of Medicine (where he is professor of medical social sciences). His research focuses on personality traits as predictors of physical health, patient outcomes, health behaviors, dementia, and mortality risk, as well as on the ways that personality changes over the lifespan.

The researchers hope BEAMS will create a valuable resource for researchers interested in studying developmental processes, and inform intervention efforts aimed at mitigating the harmful health consequences of early adversity across the life span.

The Research Project Grant (R01) is the original and historically oldest grant mechanism used by NIH.

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