Dr Julieta Galante

The effect of mindfulness training on immune dysregulation and pro-inflammatory states in the context of chronic stress

Dr Julieta Galante is a Research Associate at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge. Her project is a study investigating the effect of mindfulness training on immune dysregulation and pro-inflammatory states in the context of chronic stress.

Like the brain and mind, the immune system is hugely complex, sharing other characteristics such as memory and the need to differentiate between the self and the environment. Immune dysregulation can generate chronic inflammation in body tissues, leading to increased risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and depression, some of the most important causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Persistent psychological stress has been shown to promote pro-inflammatory immune dysregulation. Given that it is becoming clear that mindfulness can help people manage their stress, it may also prevent immune dysregulation and so reduce the risks of several chronic illnesses.

The Mindful Student Study currently underway in Cambridge is a randomised evaluation of the provision of mindfulness training to support university students’ wellbeing and resilience to stress.

Dr Galante says, “The Mindful Trust Research Award will enable us to conduct an exploratory sub-study to investigate whether and how mindfulness could help mitigate immune dysregulation and pro-inflammatory states stemming from stress, particularly during the exam term.
We will use state-of-the-art immunophenotyping to examine the proportions of over 80 different key peripheral immune cell subsets. We will also measure key stress hormones, inflammatory markers and virus antibodies to further assess the immune system’s functionality. We will compare results in participants who were randomly assigned to mindfulness training with those who weren’t. Information on whether and how mindfulness buffers stress-generated pro-inflammatory changes in the body is essential in determining its role in the fight against the most prevalent causes of morbidity and mortality around the world“.

Progress at April 2017

Dr Galante writes:

In January 2016, 81 students consented to take part in the study generously funded by the Mindful Trust and completed our baseline questionnaire. Out of these, 56 students attended the lab to donate a blood sample. Blood extraction was unsuccessful in one participant, and another participant dropped out of the study before randomisation, so 54 participants were successfully randomised.

The 27 participants who were randomly assigned to the intervention group were offered a place in the 8-week “mindfulness skills for students” course starting the following week, and the other 27 participants will be offered a place in the January 2017 courses. All 54 randomised participants were invited to donate another blood sample in May/June 2016, the main exam period in Cambridge. Out of these, 48 completed the exam period questionnaire and successfully donated a second sample.

After each blood-taking day, one of the three tubes per participant was taken to the immunophenotyping lab, another one to the virology lab, and the third tube was taken to the general lab for cytokine, cortisol and CRP analysis. Raw data are now available from these three labs and from the questionnaires, and all is being processed for analysis. Processing immunophenotyping data is particularly complex as it involves visual interpretation by our expert immunologist of an extensive number of graphs. She is doing this blind to trial arm to avoid bias. We are very much looking forward to the results.”