McLean Hospital Joins Partnership to Research Generational Trauma

July 1, 2021

McLean Hospital has partnered with the nonprofit arm of The Connor Group, a real estate investment firm, as well as the University of Dayton and Dayton Children’s Hospital, on a groundbreaking research project aimed at understanding the biological link between childhood hardships and mental disorders.

The study, dubbed the Connor-McLean Healthy Kids Development Program, is a combined effort of Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital’s chief scientific officer and a professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and The Connor Group Kids and Community Partners.

The project will enroll up to 1,000 families in Dayton, Ohio, as part of a visionary, long-term program to understand the role of stress on biological mechanisms, in particular epigenetics, that contribute to the risk of mental health disorders in children. Partners from the University of Dayton and Dayton Children’s Hospital are recruiting families to participate in the research.

Family playing in the park

“Epigenetics involves reversible biological mechanisms that regulate the function of our genome. Studies have shown that factors like toxic stress, poverty, and likely also social isolation during COVID can change these epigenetic marks and lead to the development of mental and physical disorders over time,” Ressler said. “The results of this study will help us understand why some children are more vulnerable to develop mental and physical health problems while others seem surprisingly resilient.”

“This is some of the most exciting and groundbreaking work being done in psychiatric research,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean’s president and psychiatrist in chief. “Kerry’s team, including Torsten Klengel, MD, PhD, from McLean, and Lucy Allbaugh, PhD, from U Dayton, is essentially studying how trauma is passed down from generation to generation and what can be done about it to benefit the mental health of our children.”

Klengel stated that, over the long term, “researchers believe the results of the study will help identify actionable markers before the onset of mental health problems.” These markers, he asserted, could provide earlier and more effective interventions for at-risk children.

The study recently expanded to include families from the broader southwest Ohio area as well as from Detroit and Atlanta. Enrolled families (parents and children aged 8-10) participate biannually in online questionnaires and by sharing mail-in saliva samples.

Participation in the study is voluntary, with financial compensation for each study visit. Those interested in learning more about the study can visit the Dayton Kids Project website or send questions via email. Please consider participating in this important research study.

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