Hernandez Awarded NIH KO1 for Intervention Research Project

Dr. Rosalba Hernandez, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work, has been awarded an NIH Mentored Career Development Award to Promote Faculty Diversity in Biomedical Research (KO1) from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Her project, Positive Psychology Intervention for Spanish-speaking Hispanic/Latino Adults at High Risk for Cardiovascular Disease, employs a positive psychology intervention, in the form of systematic exercises, to cultivate positive cognitive and emotional well-being.  A focused positive psychology intervention to improve emotional well-being holds promise as a novel therapeutic target for hypertension.

Specifically, Dr. Hernandez will implement, and evaluate, in Hispanic/Latinos adults with uncontrolled hypertension, an innovative positive psychology (PP) intervention that is expected to result in improved blood pressure (BP) profiles. Her hypothesis is that the intervention will significantly enhance emotional well-being, with an associated favorable impact on cardiovascular functioning.

Her project is comprised of two studies. The first is an 8-week culturally-tailored intervention curriculum that includes weekly group-based sessions within a church-based setting. This approach, which has not undergone experimental testing, incorporates the strength-based cultural aspects of familialism and religiosity as part of a positive psychology intervention. She will evaluate the efficacy of this approach in Hispanic/Latino adults of Mexican background with uncontrolled hypertension.

The second study will examine the underlying bio-behavioral mechanisms through which psychological well-being influences cardiovascular health using data of the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL).

Dr. Hernandez will be mentored and advised by a first rate team of scientists. Her co-mentors will be Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Director, UIC Institute for Minority Health Research; and, UIC Associate Vice Chancellor for Research; and Judith T. Moskowitz, PhD, Professor in Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Director of Research at the Northwestern Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Ken Wilund, Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, will serve as an advisor, in addition to both Jason M. Lazar, MD, Professor of Medicine; Director, Non-Invasive Cardiology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Fellow in the American College of Physicians, Jeffrey Huffman, MD, Director of the Cardiac Psychiatry Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Frank J. Penedo, PhD, Roswell Park Professor of Medical Social Sciences, Psychology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; and Ramon Durazo-Arvizu, PhD, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Illinois.

Dr. Hernandez expects that completion of the proposed research will provide preliminary evidence to support the feasibility and efficacy of a positive psychology intervention that can be effectively implemented in a population of Hispanic/Latino adults which will reproducibly result in increased psychological and physiological benefits as reflected in reduced CVD risk.