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Julienne E. Bower, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry/Biobehavioral Sciences
Research Scientist, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
Los Angeles, California
Goal: To understand the links between psychological stress and inflammation in breast cancer.
Impact: Drs. Bower and Cole have identified processes that may activate inflammation pathways that promote breast tumor growth and spread. These findings, along with their investigations into positive emotional states that may buffer the effects of stress, could lead to the development of interventions that improve emotional and physical well-being in women with breast cancer.
What’s next: The team will study whether stress-induced changes in tumor biology can be blocked by stimulating the brain’s reward system. In addition, they plan to test an online version of their mindfulness-based intervention for breast cancer survivors, which has been shown to reduce stress, enhance well-being, and lower inflammation.
People who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer experience many forms of stress. This includes psychological stress, which activates the immune system and leads to inflammation that may influence breast cancer outcomes. Drs. Bower and Cole are focusing on the role the nervous and immune systems play in translating the effects of stress from brain to body.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Studying the biological pathways that link psychological stress and breast cancer outcomes, with a focus on the nervous and immune systems.
Impact: Patients who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer experience many forms of stress including psychological stress which can activate the immune response and cause inflammation — this negatively impacts breast cancer outcomes. Compelling evidence has emerged that indicates that the immune response and inflammation play a role in tumor initiation, progression, and metastatic spread. Drs. Bower and Cole are focusing on the role of the nervous and immune systems in translating stress from brain to body. They hope to identify novel targets and interventions that improve quality and potentially length of life for patients with breast cancer.
Current investigation: Drs. Bower and Cole are examining the links between psychological stress and immunity in breast cancer with a focus on inflammation.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Bower and Cole have developed an experimental model of breast cancer metastasis to study specific neural and immune processes through which stress may influence breast tumor growth and spread. They have shown that stress-induced changes in tumor biology can be blocked by stimulating the brain’s reward system. In addition, they have developed and optimized an intervention protocol to reduce stress in breast cancer patients.
What’s next: The team has developed a preclinical model to test whether activation of reward-related regions in the brain has a beneficial effect on breast tumor development. They will continue to investigate the link between stress and breast cancer and to identify targets for intervention. In addition, they will develop an online version of their mindfulness-based intervention for breast cancer survivors which has been shown to reduce stress, enhance well-being, and lower inflammation. Both lines of research are designed to establish new paradigms for blocking the stress effect in the context of human breast cancer.
Julienne E. Bower, PhD is a nationally recognized expert on biobehavioral processes in breast cancer and their impact on health and well-being. She has conducted pioneering work on neuroimmune interactions in breast cancer survivors, focusing on immune mechanisms for behavioral symptoms such as cancer-related fatigue. Her research also examines the impact of psychosocial stress on behavioral and biological outcomes in cancer populations, including effects on inflammation and the tumor microenvironment. Dr. Bower's current BCRF funded research, conducted in collaboration with BCRF co-grantee Steven Cole is designed to identify the upstream neural processes that regulate inflammatory activity and how these can be modulated by mind-body interventions. Dr. Bower is an Associate Professor in the UCLA Department of Psychology and the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and is also a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.