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Research

imageThe Mind-Body Clinical Research Center also conducts basic laboratory and applied clinical research among individuals with and without chronic illnesses. The center’s main research focus is to understand and treat mood and anxiety disorders, pain, tobacco use and health management.

Basic laboratory research: The goal is to understand the emotional, cognitive, neurobiological, and immunological risk and resiliency factors that underlie mind-body and behavioral health problems among individuals with and without chronic illnesses.

Applied clinical research: Taking what we learn from our basic laboratory research, we then develop, test and refine mind-body behavioral health treatments that target specific risk and resiliency factors for illness prevention and intervention. We conduct this research collaboratively with national experts in anxiety and mood management, tobacco control and mind-body treatment.

This two-pronged approach is ideal to advance science and provide optimal integrative care for patients.

Our current research studies focus on the following:

Helping Astronauts Stay Psychologically Healthy

Astronauts are exposed to extreme environments and behavioral health risks during space missions including living and working in close/claustrophobic conditions, sleep and circadian rhythm disruption, physiological changes and behavioral adaptation to microgravity, monotony, interpersonal issues with space crew and ground-based mission control members, and separation from family and friends. Despite these challenges, evidence suggests that psychological health of astronauts has typically remained intact during short duration missions.

Little is known, however, on how astronauts will react psychologically during and after long duration space missions, such as those required to travel to a near Earth asteroid or Mars.
Missions to Mars are expected to last 2.5 years with a crew of 6-7 astronauts, and longer missions to the outer solar system may last 10+ years. As such, astronauts will be faced with chronic stressors including separation from loved ones, living and working in extreme environments, loss of natural day/light cycles, partial gravity, Earth being out of sight, and persistent threats of danger such as exposure to radioactivity. In the absence of effective coping skills, these stressors can lead to psychological and behavioral health conditions such as depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

Long-duration missions involve a unique stressor that has not been a concern on previous
missions—the lack of real-time communication with Earth. It is expected that long-duration missions will have communication time lapses of 20-40 minutes when communicating with earth. Little is known about how to provide psychological support when real-time communication is not possible.

Ongoing Research


Our group presently has a 3 year grant from NASA to evaluate the use of technology for providing asynchronous psychotherapy (i.e., therapy without real-time communication with a therapist). If you are a medical professional, postdoc or graduate students in STEM field, you may be elgible to participate. If you are interested in learning more about this program, please contact our program coordinator: Juan Hernandez at 631-632-3797 or email SBUSTARSTUDY@gmail.com  

You can also click here for more details.

Stress, Anxiety and Depression during Pregnancy

Treating prenatal mood and anxiety symptoms is a critical target for promoting the health of women and their babies. Elevated stress, anxiety and depression during pregnancy are risk factors for poor birth outcomes such as preterm delivery, low birth-weight, and developmental differences that persist into early childhood. Depression during pregnancy is also the most important predictor of postpartum depression in new mothers. Given that many pregnant women prefer not to use psychiatric medications, research is needed to help identify effective, low-risk ways to treat depression and anxiety during pregnancy.

The Stress Management and Resiliency Training Program (SMART) is a group based CBT mind-body program that is well suited to the needs of pregnant women with mood and anxiety symptoms. SMART is an 8-session group program, designed by the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, that integrates CBT with relaxation skills training to help participants learn to identify and change unhelpful thinking, use new coping strategies (e.g., getting active and improving self-care), access social support resources, and elicit the relaxation via mindfulness and meditation practices.

Ongoing Research

Our group (PI Dr. Brittain Mahaffey) presently has a grant under review aimed at piloting the SMART group program for pregnant women. Look for more updates on this project soon.

Treating Depression, Anxiety and Pain in People with Cancer

 People with cancer often experience multiple physical and psychological problems related to dealing with the diagnosis itself, the disease and treatment. These problems can include: depression, anxiety and physical pain and fatigue. These symptoms are often highly distressing and can contribute to poor quality of life.

Palliative care, provided alongside cancer treatment, can help to alleviate these symptoms and improve quality of life for patients. Music listening treatment is one form of palliative care that patients often enjoy and find helpful in managing their symptoms. Music therapy is known to be cost-effective and has been shown to decrease symptoms related to cancer diagnosis and treatment including mood problems and physical pain and discomfort. However, exactly how music works biologically in the brain to treat mood problems and pain remains unknown.

Ongoing Research

Our group (PI Dr. Adam Gonzalez) presently has a grant application under review to examine the neurobiological bases of music therapy for treating depression in individuals undergoing chemotherapy. We hope to use fMRI imaging technology to better understand how music therapy works in the brain. We are not currently enrolling participants for this trial. Please check back for updates in the near future.