Researcher of the Month, Elissa Epel, PhD

Elissa Epel portraitElissa Epel, PhD, a health psychologist, is interested in stress and how it gets under the skin to affect cellular and cardiometabolic health. She studies how the environment, social context, and mind states affect stress and metabolic health. With a group of colleagues, she has led an obesity research consortium, and now, with Aric Prather, PhD, she is co-leading the UC-wide Stress Free UC Study.

“Each UC campus has a different social, demographic, and geographical context,” Epel says. “In our study at different campuses, we will get to compare health and well-being. We will learn a lot about UCSF, and it won't necessarily translate to other campuses like UC Merced, which is more rural and has a majority-minority population. Each campus has its own issues, but stress is a common issue across campuses. Others include food insecurity, burnout, depression, and suicide risk, particularly in the student populations, but in the staff as well. And now, on top of that, everyone is facing looming threats from the climate and immigration crises. So we are in a remarkable period where our emotional well-being and our physiological state of balance are under threat, whether we realize it consciously or not.”
In reflecting on her two-decade journey at UCSF, Epel says, “I came to UCSF in 2000. At the time, I could not possibly have done the clinical research that I did without what is now known as Clinical & Translational Science Institute (CTSI). It was an incredibly well-supported research resource, both with funded infrastructure, and with seasoned clinical researchers like Maurie Schambelan, and Lynda Frassetto, who were mentoring postdocs and junior investigators on how to do clinical research. Since then, there have been a lot of changes and we need to be honest that it is simply more challenging to be a clinical researcher at UCSF today, because of the dramatic cuts that the NIH has made in CTSI.”

She continues, “The amazing thing is that there have been so many devoted researchers and research administrators that keep CTSI going through thick and thin. I am appreciative of the major rehaul that Lindsey Criswell and others are doing to reduce obstacles and improve the clinical research pipeline, and in particular, clinical trials. This is why UCSF continues to be strong – our dedication to maintaining and growing our research community and trainees.”

Read the full interview here via UCSF's Office of Research