The Miriam Hospital has received an $11.1 million federal grant to establish a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) in Rhode Island devoted to a growing field of inquiry – how stress and trauma early in life can have lasting impacts on our health and wellness.

The grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, will fund the creation of the STAR COBRE, which will be based out of the Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital. STAR stands for Stress, Trauma, and Resilience.

The center will build research capacity at The Miriam while also establishing partnerships with collaborators at Lifespan, the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and Care New England, specifically its psychiatric facility, Butler Hospital. Study topics will include the effects that child neglect, sexual abuse, and food insecurity have on mental and physical well-being.

“It is a critical time for research into stress and trauma, and the pathways to resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the global burden of stress, trauma, and adversity and has exaggerated racial, ethnic, and socio-economic inequalities. The STAR COBRE will be the first research center in Rhode Island to focus on stress, trauma, and resilience,” said the center’s principal investigator, Laura R. Stroud, PhD, who is director of The Miriam’s Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “It will support transformative research to understand how stress and trauma impact mental and physical health and develop novel approaches to interventions that will promote resilience across the lifespan. The COBRE will support the Miriam Hospital to emerge as a leader and as a local and national resource in this area of research.”

COBRE Co-Director Audrey Tyrka, MD, PhD, who is a director of research at Butler Hospital and professor and vice chair of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown, said, “This exciting new center is the culmination of interdisciplinary collaborations with brilliant and dedicated senior and early career investigators and senior scientists, support staff and leadership at The Miriam Hospital, Lifespan and Care New England health systems, community agencies, and the Brown Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. We look forward to developing this center together.” 

The COBRE grant is for five years and is the first phase of what could ultimately span three phases over 15 years. These centers are intended to bring together experienced researchers and junior investigators to cultivate multidisciplinary research and expertise in a variety of fields. In recent years, Lifespan has succeeded in securing grants for COBRE centers devoted to a variety of critical areas of research including the following: antimicrobial resistance, opioids and overdose, childhood and adolescent sleep, skeletal health and repair, cancer research development, and stems cells and aging.

“This latest COBRE grant will provide invaluable contributions to our knowledge about stress and trauma as the world is gripped by this terrible pandemic. It will also enhance Lifespan’s growing stature as a global leader of medical research. We are once again demonstrating that we have phenomenal talent within our health system as well as the vision and leadership to effectively partner with our health care and academic partners in Rhode Island to spur our development into a hub of medical and research excellence,” said Lifespan President and CEO Timothy R. Babineau, MD. 

In all, Lifespan affiliates are the main institutions for six ongoing Centers of Excellence.

Proposed research initiatives at the STAR center, led by early career investigators, include:

•    A project investigating how childhood maltreatment impacts executive function, rumination and mental health symptoms in adolescents building on a 12-year prospective study. (Chrystal Vergara-Lopez, PhD)

•    A project using real time experience sampling in pregnant women to examine links between childhood sexual abuse and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. (Margaret Bublitz, PhD)

•    a clinical trial to examine the impact of food insecurity on diet, inflammatory and metabolic markers, and summer weight gain. (E.Whitney Evans, PhD)

The Center will also allow The Miriam Hospital to recruit a new faculty member, and to fund pilot projects for new research initiatives with a particular focus on health disparities.

“The broad range of topics being studied by our centers is reflective of the ambitious and important research that Lifespan is undertaking and our determination to seek answers to questions that can better all of our lives. It’s a culture that helps us attract and retain some of the most accomplished and driven scientists, clinicians, medical students and residents,” said Lifespan Vice President of Research and Chief Research Officer Michael Henderson.

Members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation supported The Miriam’s application for the NIH grant.

 “I commend Miriam Hospital and its outstanding team of doctors, researchers, and health professionals for winning this competitive grant.  This federal funding will provide researchers with the necessary resources to take on high-priority research on the role that stress, trauma, and resilience play in health and wellness in Rhode Island,” said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee who helped secure $42.9 billion for the NIH including $396.5 million for the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program.

“I congratulate The Miriam Hospital on being selected to house a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence,” said U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.  “With funding from the National Institutes of Health, world-class researchers at The Miriam will study the lifelong effects of stress and trauma and unlock ways to help people lead more resilient lives.”

“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to better understand the impact that stress and trauma can have on our health and wellbeing,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin. “With this grant, The Miriam Hospital is positioned to become a national leader in this growing field, which will yield invaluable research and insight for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders. I’m proud to have helped secure this federal funding along with my congressional colleagues, and I look forward to reviewing the new COBRE Center’s findings.” 

“The Miriam Hospital and its affiliates do incredible work and already undertake a range of important and forward-thinking research,” said U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. “I was proud to support funding for the creation of its newest Center of Biomedical Research Excellence and its focus on the ways stress, trauma, and resilience affect health outcomes for individuals over their lifetime. This is also a vital federal investment in support of training opportunities for experienced and up-and-coming researchers in Rhode Island.”