Preventing Health Disparities - from genes to neighborhoods


Over the last 6 months, a group of faculty across Tulane, led by Dr. Kat Theall, have created a multidisciplinary research collaborative called the Tulane Stress and Environment Research Collaborative on Health Disparities. The collaborative spans four schools and 10 departments across the university, with the overarching theme of “Preventing Health Disparities: from genes to neighborhoods.” Through the application of basic, biomedical and social science research, SERCH’s long-term goal is to better understand the pathways through which stress influences health across the life course. Specifically, the collaborative will examine multiple socioecological stressors – individual, interpersonal and community – and how they impact early and sensitive periods in the life course – in utero, early infancy, childhood and adolescence.

SERCH’s work has five main focal points related to the expertise of the Principal Investigators:

  • Identifying an epigenetic psychophysiological profile that sets the health trajectory;
  • Uncovering causes of health disparities, including disparities in exposure to allergens, pollution, access to health, social norms, socioeconomic inequalities, violence and racism or race-based stress; determining the role of racism or race-based stress as well as healthy cultural practices in the development and alteration of this trajectory;
  • Defining and exploring the impact of community-level and interpersonal stress in development and alteration of this trajectory, including the strengthening the roles of parental attachment and a focus on violence as a key stressor in this trajectory; and
  • Designing and testing interventions to promote healthy trajectories and reduce health disparities.
  • Taking a leadership role in interdisciplinary training related to health disparities.

Results from the research will foster novel prevention programs that build on psychosocial strengths of individuals and communities. The aim is to alter these negative trajectories with a focus on sustainable implementation and successful dissemination of such programs, using community-based participatory research (CBPR) and ownership as a key ingredient to successful sustainable programs. Additionally, the collaborative will create a unique interdisciplinary training environment for staff and students involved in this research. SERCH is looking forward to the completion of research space in the J Bennett Johnston Health and Environmental Research building that will include a biophysiology lab, observation and interview rooms, focus group room, and a GIS computing lab.