Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

135 The Incorporation of Biological and Genetic Markers In Social Work Research

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Constitution E (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Health and Disability
Symposium Organizer:
Jan Steven Greenberg, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The goal of this symposium is to expose participants to examples of how biomarkers can be introduced into social work research that will help advance our understanding of the interplay between biological, psychological, and social processes in assessing behavior and planning effective social work interventions. Three different NIH funded studies will be presented to demonstrate how the incorporation of biomarkers into survey research leads to deeper insights into understanding the biopsychosocial underpinnings of human behavior and to identifying a more wholistic approach to individualizing treatment for populations at risk for mental health problems.

One paper focuses on the body's physiological response to the chronic stress of caring for an adult child with mental illness. Specifically, this paper examines how the interaction of daily life stresses and the caregiving role leads to a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (one of the body's stress systems) characterized by lower cortisol awaken response and a more gradual rate of decline throughout the day. The long-term effects of this pattern of HPA dysregulation on the caregiver's health are discussed as well as social work interventions to restore health. A second paper analyzes data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health DNA subsample to examine environmental, genetic, and self-regulatory effects in predicting polydrug use and substance-related problems. The findings suggest that adolescent males with vulnerable genotypes (DAT1 risk alleles or DRD2 risk alleles) may be more susceptible to peers who are misusing substances than individuals without this genetic risk profile. The mediating pathways linking genetic vulnerability to substance-related problems are complex and identified using structural equation modeling. These findings suggest that treatment attention to key mediators along the biosocial continuum may preempt or deflect some of the substance-related problems before they become too severe. The third paper examines the relationship between two biological and two non-biological measures of stress in sample of 230 African-American women living in a large urban Midwestern city. Although the two biological markers of stress (i.e., diurnal salivary cortisol and serum cortisol) are strongly correlated, neither biological marker was correlated with perceived stress as measured by the Perceived Stress Scale and the Life Events Questionnaire. The findings from this study suggest that measures of stress cannot be used interchangeably and that perceived stress does not necessarily reflect biological processes.

These studies focus on very different populations and problem areas that have been a core focus of social work practice and research for decades. The symposium will demonstrate the potential for new insights that inform social work practice when social work researchers embrace the inclusion of biological and genetic biomarkers into our research studies.

* noted as presenting author
Daily Stress and Cortisol Patterns In Parents of Individuals with a Serious Mental Illness
Jan Steven Greenberg, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Erin Barker, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Marsha Mailick Seltzer, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Jinkuk Hong, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; David Almeida, The Pennsylvania State University
Examining Environmental, Genetic and Self-Regulatory Effects In Predicting Polydrug Use and Substance-Related Problems
Michael Vaughn, PhD, Saint Louis University; Brian Perron, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Lisa Schelbe, MSW, University of Pittsburgh
Comparing Biological and Non-Biological Measures of Stress
Sarah Gehlert, PhD, Washington University in Saint Louis; Sarah Bollinger, MSW, Washington University in Saint Louis; Elaina Murray, BS, Washington University in Saint Louis
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