Skip to main content

The Stress & Development Laboratory brings together a group of basic and clinical researchers under the leadership of Prof Andrea Danese, MD PhD. The Lab aims to understand how stressful experiences in childhood affect development and later health, and how to best support children who had such traumatic experiences.

Work in the Lab has the following strategic directions:

Consequences of traumatic stress exposure

What are the consequences of traumatic stress exposure in childhood? Child trauma has been associated with a variety of effects on health, wealth, and crime. However, evidence of association does not necessarily imply causation. Establishing causal links between child traumatic stress and later outcomes is challenging because of the likely latency of effects and several potential artefacts (e.g., selection, confounding, and recall biases). Work in the Lab strengthens causal inference through cumulative evidence from longitudinal-prospective studies, meta-analyses, and animal models. This work helps define clear targets for clinical and public health interventions.

Biological embedding of stress

How is psychosocial stress translated into biological risk for disease? How does early life stress get “under the skin” and affect health? Work in the Lab tests neurobiological, endocrine and immune pathways that mediate the effects of stress on heath. Furthermore, we are interested in developing and applying innovative analytical methods to study stress biology in young people. Insights into the mechanisms of biological embedding of stress highlight potential targets for secondary prevention and treatment strategies for stress-related conditions.

Resilience, reversibility, and treatment

How can we help young people who have experienced traumatic stress? Work in the Lab is addressing this question is several ways. We look for modifiable characteristics of the individual that affect resilience or vulnerability to disease in the face of trauma exposure. We ask if currently available treatments modify the biological liability linked to trauma exposure, in order to prevent the onset or the persistence of disease. We explore if it is possible to prevent disease onset or progression by directly targeting the biological liability linked to trauma exposure.

Our research builds on collaborations with epidemiological studies, such as the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study and the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, and with the National & Specialist Clinic for Child Traumatic Stress and Anxiety Disorders at the Maudsley Hospital.

Our research has contributed to setting research directions on child traumatic stress and have informed government thinking on social care and public health policies to tackle child maltreatment.