Three faculty members at SDSU’s School of Public Health have each received a $50,000 pilot project award under the SDSU HealthLINK Center. The SDSU HealthLINK Center is a cooperative agreement funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (Drs. Guadalupe X. Ayala & Kristen J. Wells, MPIs). The Center supports an Investigator Development Core that funds junior faculty members’ research projects with a goal of studying minority health and reducing health disparities. Read about Dr. Lauren Brown’s study in part one of three of SDSU’s HealthLINK Center series.
Much of Dr. Lauren Brown’s work examines race and ethnic health disparities among older adults– she saw the HealthLINK Pilot Projects as a great opportunity to start up her research in San Diego and position herself for future funding.
Dr. Brown’s HealthLINK pilot project examines telomere length (TL) and stress pathways to race/ethnic health disparities among older adults. Much of her past work has looked at the many ways that Black and Latinx populations come to differ in health and well-being at the end of life. Some of the disparities we know to exist, especially for Black people, are a reflection of experiencing more stressors in their lives, and as a result, aging faster and having earlier onset of many diseases of aging. These include declines in biological, physical, and cognitive functions. Now that the relationship between stress and aging in racial/ethnic minority populations has been established, there are large community-based population datasets that are available to analyze. These datasets use biomarkers, such as saliva and blood, to measure TL.
Telomeres are molecular biomarkers that sit on the ends of our chromosomes or DNA; they do not contain any genetic material, but they protect our chromosomes from cellular division, erosion, and stress. TL gets shorter with stress and aging; the idea being that at the end of someone’s life, we can measure the length of their telomeres and understand their experiences with stress. However, Dr. Brown has published three studies on how TL obtained from saliva does not capture stress and the aging process in large racial/ethnic diverse populations. In the next wave of data, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) will be measuring TL from blood samples. Dr. Brown’s objective is to examine if blood is a good biomarker to measure TL and improve the ability to tell us about the stress and aging experiences of Black and Latinx populations.
In summary, the main goal of this study is to find the best measure to understand stress and aging in a large and diverse population to ensure that racial/ethnic minority groups, who are less represented in national datasets, can benefit from healthcare and medicine. Dr. Brown’s study has implications on general genetic research as we start to move to an era of individualized medicine where we can tailor healthcare and medicine to a person. Dr. Brown wants to stress the importance of incorporating molecular and genetic diversity and ensuring we do not isolate racial/ethnic minority groups who are experiencing the most health disparities, in receiving precision medicine that can improve their health and well-being.