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Biobehavioral Oncology Research Program

Understanding how the mind, brain and immune system work together to impact outcomes for young patients with cancer.

The Biobehavioral Oncology Research Program studies how psychosocial and neuroimmune processes impact pediatric and adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients with cancer. Our research focuses on identifying and understanding how positive and negative biopsychosocial factors — like stress, anxiety, depression, resilience and social support — influence clinical cancer outcomes and quality of life for patients.

Our team uses innovative translational biobehavioral approaches to hone in on the mechanisms linking behavioral and health outcomes. Our multidisciplinary team is integrated with the Palliative Care and Resilience (PCAR) program. Together, our goal is to better understand and define biopsychosocial relationships in young patients with cancer. This will lead to targeted behavioral and medical interventions to help support whole-person oncology care.

Current Projects

Biomarkers of stress and resilience in AYAs receiving bone marrow transplants

In partnership with Dr. Abby Rosenberg, we are collecting biologic data from AYA patients receiving a resilience intervention while undergoing bone marrow transplant. Participants are fitted with a wearable device that tracks heart rate variability (HRV), which is a marker of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Blood samples are also collected to measure a gene expression pattern (the conserved transcriptional response to adversity, CTRA) that is ‘turned on’ by stress and can increase inflammation. These stress biomarkers are then mapped onto patient-reported measures of stress, resilience, anxiety, and depression.

By identifying stress biomarkers and linking them with psychosocial symptoms and clinical outcomes, we hope to design interventions targeting the stress response. Interventions tailored to an individual’s “stress phenotype” could include positive psychology and stress reduction modalities and medications to reduce adrenergic activation.

Patient-reported social and behavioral determinants of health and a social genomics profile in patients receiving bone marrow transplants

We collected clinical data from a recent study conducted by The Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR). This included blood samples and surveys from patients receiving bone marrow transplants describing their quality of life and social well-being. Blood samples were used for RNA sequencing to measure a social genomic expression pattern (CTRA) and mapped onto patient-reported outcome surveys. Pinpointing psychosocial and socioenvironmental factors that are important to patients, like social well-being and quality of life, and are linked to medical outcomes like relapse and survival. 

Biobehavioral mechanisms in immunotherapy

We are just beginning to explore psychosocial aspects of immunotherapy for children and AYAs. There are unique mental and physical symptoms, stressors and socioenvironmental factors for patients and families receiving immunotherapy. Our lab is interested in exploring biobehavioral relationships among patients who receive CAR T-cell therapy, including measuring and classifying stress biomarkers in this growing population.

  • Jorie  Wittig, BA

    Jorie Wittig, BA

    Jorie Wittig is currently a 3rd year medical student at the University of Washington. Originally from Vancouver, WA, she travelled East and earned her bachelor's degree in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester in upstate NY where she also studied music and played soccer. After graduating in 2020, she returned home to work as a nanny and teach second graders prior to starting medical school fall of 2021. While she has yet to choose a specialty, her current interests include pediatric oncology, internal medicine and palliative care. Her role as a volunteer researcher involves assisting with quantitative and qualitative data entry, interpretation and extraction for several different projects. She is passionate about humanizing healthcare and improving outcomes through targeted, patient-centered research.

Publications

See a complete list of Dr. Taylor’s publications on PubMed.


Interested in joining the Biobehavioral Oncology Research Program? Please send your CV to molly.taylor@seattlechildrens.org.