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Julienne E. Bower, PhD
Associate Professor, 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 doctors will study whether stress-induced changes in tumor biology can be blocked by stimulating the brain’s reward system. In addition, they plan to develop and 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: The emotional stress breast cancer patients experience has long been thought to influence breast cancer outcomes. Drs. Bower and Cole’s investigations into how that stress leads to the release of hormones that influence the immune system and activate inflammation pathways could guide the development of new models for blocking the stress effect in the context of human breast cancer.
Current investigation: The doctors and their team have been using an experimental model of breast cancer metastasis they developed to study specific neural and immune processes through which stress may influence breast tumor growth and spread. They are also studying the association of social isolation and markers of stress in breast cancer patients participating in a clinical trial.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Bower and Cole have identified molecular processes linking psychosocial stress and breast cancer progression, which is allowing them to develop and test interventions to enhance positive psychological processes (feelings of meaning, purpose, social engagement, etc.) that regulate neural and immune activity.
What’s next: Funding from BCRF will enable Drs. Bower and Cole to build upon their work at the preclinical and clinical level. In the laboratory, they will use their experimental model of breast cancer metastasis to see whether they can prevent the effects of stress on tumor biology with experiments that simulate a positive environment. At the clinical level, they plan to develop and test an online version of their mindfulness-based intervention for breast cancer survivors, which has previously been shown to reduce stress, enhance well-being, and lower inflammation.
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.