skip to Main Content

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.

2024 WHISPR Awardees
Sergey Karamnov headshot cropped

Sergey Karamnov, MD
Director of Research, Cardiac and Thoracic Anesthesia
The role of socioeconomic and psychosocial stress determinants in postoperative atrial fibrillation: a female-specific risk score

Those women who develop abnormal heartbeats, called atrial fibrillation, after open heart surgery live shorter lives compared to men. Atrial fibrillation is very common and occurs in 1 patient out 3 after surgery. It may lead to stroke, decreased heart function, and early death. The goal of this project is to study how preoperative socioeconomic and psychosocial stress affects incidence of atrial fibrillation in women. Our study aims to develop risk score to predict this complication. If we are successful, our work will help healthcare providers to understand which women need early prevention treatment and, therefore, help prevent this complication. Our goal is to improve lives of women who are having open heart surgery.
Rose Olson headshot

Rose Olson, MD
Associate Physician, Division of Global Health Equity
Uncovering the link between sexual assault and chronic pain conditions (CPC) in women

Chronic pain affects over 50 million U.S. adults, the majority women, and is one of the most common reasons for seeking primary care. Traumatic events like sexual assault can change how the brain processes pain, and may contribute to chronic pain conditions in women. This study investigates the link between sexual assault and the risk of chronic pain conditions in women, such as chronic abdominal pain, pelvic pain and frequent headaches. The proposed research will provide important evidence to inform future interventions for improving treatment options for chronic pain in women.
2023 WHISPR Awardees
Irene Gonsalvez Headshot cropped

Irene Gonsalvez, MD
Associate Psychiatrist, Neuropsychiatry Division
Role of oxytocin in stress response and mood disturbance in menopausal women

Oxytocin, commonly known as the “love hormone”, is involved in psychosocial and reproductive behavior, and may protect against stress. Reproductive transitions in women, including menopause, are periods of high vulnerability to stress and increased susceptibility to mood disturbance, and often include sleep interruption, which can further contribute to stress and mood disturbance. In this study, we will examine the relationship between oxytocin, stress, and mood disturbance in healthy young women under pharmacologically-induced menopause and sleep interruption. Our results may identify ways to minimize the impact of stress on the body and brain.
Shanlin Ke Headshot cropped

Shanlin Ke, PhD
Research Fellow, Channing Division of Network Medicine
Revealing the interaction between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the gut microbiome in older women

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental disorder and a risk factor for chronic diseases. Women’s risk of PTSD is twice that of men. Accumulating evidence on the gut-brain axis suggests that the gut microbiome may play an important role in PTSD but remain understudied. My overall objective is to systematically study the interaction between PTSD and the gut microbiome in women, leveraging data from a comprehensive cohort study (Nurses’ Health Study II) with unprecedentedly large sample size. To accomplish the objective, I plan to pursue two specific aims: 1) Construct the PTSD-related genome catalog of the human gut microbiome to profile microbial community at the strain level; 2) Reveal the interaction between PTSD and gut microbiome using a novel computational method. The proposed research will provide foundational evidence to inform future studies on microbiome-targeted interventions for preventing or mitigating PTSD in aging women.
Previous 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.

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.


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”

Back To Top