Julienne E. Bower, PhD
Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry/Biobehavioral Sciences
Research Scientist, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California, Los Angeles, California
2013-2014 BCRF Project:
(The Clinique Award)
Co-Investigator: Steven W. Cole, PhD, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
The role of stress in breast cancer initiation and progression has long been of interest to researchers, clinicians, and patients, although empirical research on this topic has yielded mixed and inconclusive results. A major barrier to investigating linkages between stress and breast cancer has been the lack of knowledge about biological pathways that may mediate these effects.
Drs. Bower and Cole, with previous BCRF support, have completed their examination of markers of inflammation and metastasis in breast tumors from approximately 100 women originally diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. They have also conducted analyses to determine whether particular psychological characteristics were associated with different patterns of gene expression in the breast tumors and found evidence that tumors from more socially isolated women have a more pro-metastatic transcriptome profile. This discovery may be the first evidence that social stress is associated with alterations in tumor biology among women with breast cancer.
In 2013-2014, Drs. Bower and Cole will broaden their original research and extend it in a larger sample of women who have recently been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. These women complete detailed psychosocial assessments and provide tumor and blood samples for analysis of cellular and molecular markers of inflammation before starting adjuvant therapy. Drs. Bower and Cole will continue this study for another year and recruit another 100 participants who will provide tumor specimens and blood samples for immune analysis and complete the enhanced psychosocial evaluation. This will provide an adequate sample size to examine links between psychosocial risk factors, particularly stress and social isolation, circulating monocyte populations, and tumor-associated inflammation.
Drs. Bower and Cole report significant progress in addressing the overarching aim of their project, which is to examine links between psychological stress and inflammation in breast cancer patients and underlying mechanisms. They completed data collection for a study of neural activity in women with breast cancer and healthy controls, focusing on neural responses to threat and reward. Study participants also provided blood samples for immune analysis, which are underway. Data from this study will shed light on neural mechanisms linking psychosocial stress, particularly social isolation, and aspects of the immune system known to be associated with breast cancer progression. In addition, the researchers have continued data collection for a larger study of stress and circulating and tumor-associated markers of inflammation in newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients. Specifically, they have enrolled 44 new patients into this study, for a total sample of 76 women who have completed their intensive psychosocial and immune evaluation. Finally, they are continuing to analyze tumor characteristics of socially isolated women, including gene expression analyses of tumor associated macrophages.
Dr. Bower is Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry/Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, research scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology in the Semel Institute, and a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Bower earned her PhD in psychology from UCLA and completed postdoctoral training in psychoneuroimmunology and cancer prevention/control at UCLA with another BCRF awardee, Dr. Patricia Ganz.
Dr. Bower's research focuses broadly on biobehavioral processes in breast cancer with the goal of understanding how interactions between the brain, behavior, and the immune system influence health and well-being in cancer patients and survivors. One area of her work examines biological mechanisms underlying fatigue and other behavioral side effects of cancer treatment, including depression, cognitive problems, and sleep disturbance. Another area that Dr. Bower investigates is the impact of stress on inflammatory and metabolic processes and disease-relevant health behaviors in women with breast cancer. She is also testing mind-body interventions designed to reduce stress and fatigue, including yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness meditation, and examining intervention effects on immune and endocrine pathways. Dr. Bower has received awards from the Psychoneuroimmunology Research Society and the American Psychological Association (Health Psychology) in recognition of her work.