Aoife O’Donovan, PhD
July 27, 2012
San Francisco VA Psychiatry Researcher Honored by Behavioral Medicine Society
Aoife O’Donovan, PhD, a Society in Science: Branco Weiss Fellow in psychiatry at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, was presented with the Neal E. Miller New Investigator Award for 2012 by the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.
O’Donovan was recognized for her research into the mechanisms by which chronic and acute traumatic stress are linked with increased risk of poor health outcomes, including autoimmune, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
O’Donovan received the award on June 28th at the Society’s annual meeting in Asheville, North Carolina.
She was specifically cited for a paper published in January, 2012 which found that women who tended to anticipate more threat in response to minor short-term stress had shorter telomere length than women who anticipated less threat.
Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage and mutations. Short telomere length is associated with an increased risk of various diseases of aging, as well as early death.
“The Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research is made up of distinguished scholars who are leaders in the field,” said O’Donovan. “So, to be recognized by that society is a particularly great honor for me.”
The award, named after the founder of the Academy and the first psychologist to receive the National Medal of Science, is presented “for work imaginatively conceived and carefully conducted prior to the recipient’s appointment as an assistant professor or equivalent rank.”
“We know that people who are exposed to traumatic or chronic psychological stress have increased risk for diseases of aging. In fact, a lot of the research on this has been done here at SFVAMC and UCSF, and supported by NCIRE,” said O’Donovan. “What I’m focused on is understanding the mechanisms by which our life experiences could get under the skin and into the cells to affect our risk for these diseases.”
O’Donovan was the lead author of a May 2011 paper which found that adults with PTSD and a history of childhood trauma had significantly shorter telomere length than those with PTSD but no history of childhood trauma, as well as a February 2012 study showing that greater lifetime exposure to traumatic stress was linked with higher levels of inflammation in patients with cardiovascular disease.
“Our next step will be to see if we can replicate our findings on increased inflammation and shorter telomeres in different groups of people exposed to different forms of stress,” said O’Donovan. “Then, we want to focus on the types of psychological responses that drive those biological changes. If we can get a handle on what those responses are, we could possibly change them, and potentially prevent, or at least reduce, the risk.”
Copyright © 2013 Northern California Institute for Research and Education. All rights reserved.