Team explores society’s influence on pregnant women’s health
Armed with a $400,000, three-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, a diverse group of students and a professor have teamed up to study premature births. The study examines “how higher stress and lower social support during pregnancy affect moms’ immune systems in a way that may make them more likely to have premature babies or other complications of pregnancy,” says Mary Coussons-Read, professor of psychology.
Her team consists of two graduate and four undergraduate students. “They bring expertise in biology, psychology, immunology and recruitment of bilingual and Spanish-speaking patients,” she says. A well-rounded team is important because the study incorporates many variables.
“To understand the effects of behavior on health, we have to look at the connections between emotion, psychology, personality and physiology,” explains Coussons-Read. “There is a bi-directional relationship between health and behavior, such that changes in one can affect the other.”
Marianne Kreither, a master’s student in clinical psychology, is from Chile. She says the study allows her to draw upon her academic knowledge and her ability to speak both Spanish and English as she recruits study participants. “It’s very interesting to work in a team that combines psychology and biology,” says Kreither. “It has opened another door to me for interdisciplinary research.”
Jazmin Garcia, a bachelor’s student in psychology, serves as Kreither’s research assistant. She is also taking biology classes for a pre-nursing certificate and says the study may open future doors for her, as well. “This will look very good when I apply to medical professional schools,” she says.
Coussons-Read says that, while this is a tremendous opportunity for student growth, the team is fundamentally driven by the essence of the study. “Despite the fact that more and more women use prenatal care in this country, we still have a high rate of prematurity, and we do not know why,” she says. “This and other studies addressing the reasons for prematurity can help moms and babies have healthier lives.”