Lifetime stress and trauma have detrimental consequences on the brain and immune system in the form of chronic inflammation that increases risk for the majority of leading causes of morbidity in Europe, such as cardiovascular diseases. Mindfulness interventions seem to be able to counteract the effects of chronic stress, and to protect mental and physical health, but the underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood. This fellowship aims to test and further develop an interdisciplinary framework (INSPIRER) that integrates psychological, neural, genomic and immune mechanisms of mindfulness interventions. To this aim, three studies will be conducted. First, a systematic review of the extant evidence that supports the INSPIRER will be conducted. Second, long-term mindfulness meditators will be compared with non-meditators in terms of neural and immune outcome measures in a cross-sectional study. Third, these outcomes will be used to compare an 8-week mindfulness intervention with an active control group through a randomised controlled trial. The studies will apply methods from psychology (a computerised cognitive task and questionnaires), neuroscience (structural and functional MRI) and immunology (biomarkers of inflammation). In addition to testing the neural and immune mechanisms, the two empirical studies will include an experimental induction of either physiological stress or social stress to directly test if mindfulness increases resilience. The INSPIRER has the potential to influence several research areas, as well to provide practical guidelines about which interventions are the most effective in mitigating the effects of chronic stress and concomitant inflammation. Besides conducting three studies, this fellowship will include extensive training across disciplines that will get me closer to my long-term goal of creating a strong network of collaborators in Europe and becoming a leading academic in mind-body interventions and stress.
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