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Established in January 2018, the Women’s Health Interdisciplinary Stress Program of Research (WHISPR) advances our understanding of how physiologic and psychological stress affect women’s health and disease, and vice versa, by supporting pilot projects, facilitating interactions among WHISPR investigators and other stress researchers, and hosting an annual scientific symposium for the BWH academic community. Learn more about the Annual WHISPR Symposiums.

The scope of proposed research includes clinical, translational, population, and basic research studies investigating interactions of physiologic indicators of stress (e.g., adrenergic, immune, neural, endocrine) and stress exposures (e.g., trauma, adversity, cognitive, affective) with women’s health and disease. WHISPR involves investigators from across BWH to develop new research and foster synergy among investigators in this interdisciplinary and cross-cutting field.

This program was established with a generous gift from the Gretchen S. Fish Fund for Women’s Health and Stress Research.

2022 WHISPR Awardees
lidia minguez-alarcon (2)

Lidia Minguez-Alarcon, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
Self-reported perceived stress in relation to reproductive, cardiometabolic and perinatal outcomes among women in the EARTH Study.

Women with fertility problems experience stress, but it is understudied whether the opposite is true. Using available exposure and outcome data from the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study, we will evaluate perceived stress in relation to women’s fertility and cardiometabolic health during pregnancy as well as perinatal health. We will also investigate whether certain structural and social determinants of health (race, education and income) modify the associations.
Jun Li 2022 for badge

Jun Li, MD, PhD 
Associate Epidemiologist, Division of Preventative Medicine
Sex Differences in Depression-Related Metabolic Dysregulation and Risk of Cardiometabolic Disease.

In a large long-term population study of participants with diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, our study use state-of-the-art technologies to assess how depression adversely affects human metabolism; and seeks to examine whether those adverse effects increase future risk of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes; we will further examine whether people with different biological sex, races/ethnicities, social factors, and lifestyles present different levels of risk. Our findings will provide information to help prevent adverse connections linking psychosocial stress with heart disease and diabetes.

2021 WHISPR Awardees
Jessica Busler

Jessica Busler, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Psychiatry
Testing a Novel Stress-GABA-Obesity Pathway in Postmenopausal Women

Dysregulated psychological and physiological stress responses are implicated in the pathophysiology of obesity and may contribute to obesity-related negative health outcomes, particularly in postmenopausal women. Stress responses are regulated by functioning in brain regions of the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. Dysfunction in the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) inhibitory neurotransmitter system may be one mechanism mediating effects on stress-related brain circuitry and physiology contributing to increased obesity in midlife women. In a sample of postmenopausal women varying in body mass indexes, we aim to test a novel stress-GABA-obesity pathway using endocrine, behavioral, and neuroimaging methodologies.

Lydia Lynch

Lydia Lynch, PhD
Researcher, Lynch Laboratory
Sex Differences in the Neuroendocrine-Immune Response to Stress

Stress is mediated by crosstalk between the immune, endocrine and nervous systems. Stress increases inflammatory cytokines in humans and mice, especially IL-6, which plays an important role in thermoregulation but also anxiety, and depression. Surprisingly, during stress, brown fat is the primary source of IL-6, in response to neuroendocrine signals. Using in vivo metabolic analysis, we have found major sex differences in this pathway, including lipid metabolism in brown fat, cytokine response to stress, and thermoregulation. This project will investigate the biochemical and molecular basis of these sex differences and their impact on immunity and disease in aging females.

Previous WHISPR Awardees

Margo Nathan, MD
Instructor, Department of Psychiatry
“Evaluating Stress Response Dysregulation as a Link Between Depression and Nonobstructive Coronary Artery Disease in Women.”

J.Stuart Headshot

Jennifer Stuart, ScD
Associate Epidemiologist and Instructor of Medicine, Division of Women’s Health
“Preeclampsia and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Disentangling Physiologic and Psychologic Stressors Across the Life Course.”


Sarah Boukezzi, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Women’s Health
“Effects of Psychosocial Stress on Transcriptomic and Neural Mechanisms in Trauma-Exposed Women with Major Depressive Disorder.”


Le Min, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension
“Interaction of Stress and Nutrition in the Regulation of Female Reproduction.”


Tianyi Huang, ScD, MSc
Instructor, BWH Channing Division of Network Medicine
“Association of Childhood Abuse with Plasma Metabolomics in Women”

Pamela Mahon

Pamela Mahon, PhD
Assistant Professor, BWH Department of Psychiatry
“Linking the Roles of HPA-axis Response and GABAergic Function in Women”

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