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Steven W. Cole, PhD
Division of Hematology-Oncology and Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California
Los Angeles, California
Goal: To understand the links between psychological stress and inflammation in breast cancer.
Impact: Drs. Cole and Bower 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 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.Cole and Bower 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. Cole and Bower 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. Cole and Bower are examining the links between psychological stress and immunity in breast cancer with a focus on inflammation.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Cole and Bower 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.
Steven Cole is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the UCLA School of Medicine. His research maps the molecular pathways by which social and environmental factors influence the activity of human, viral, and tumor genomes. He pioneered the use of functional genomics approaches in social and behavioral research, and has mapped the signal transduction pathways by which social factors enhance replication of viruses (e.g., HIV-1 and HHV-8), alter expression of immune response genes (e.g., IL-6 and Interferon-beta), and up-regulate expression of pro-metastatic genes by human breast and ovarian cancer cells. His research uses computational modeling strategies to identify transcription factors that mediate socio-environmental influences on gene expression and genetic polymorphisms that modify those effects to create Gene x Environment interactions. Dr. Cole is member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Norman Cousins Center, the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute, and the NCI Network on Biobehavioral Pathways in Cancer, and he holds a joint appointment in UCLA’s Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.