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Steven W. Cole, PhD
Division of Hematology-Oncology
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 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. 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: The emotional stress breast cancer patients experience has long been thought to influence breast cancer outcomes. Drs. Cole and Bower’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. Cole and Bower 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. Cole and Bower 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.
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.