Research Labs & Projects

Faculty Research Labs 

Health, Well-being, and Mindfulness LabDr. Elizabeth Cotter

  • Primary Aims
    Prevention and treatment of eating and weight-related concerns; mindfulness-based approaches to improving health behaviors. Active projects include a nationwide study on antecedents and consequences of loss of control eating; qualitative research to examine how DC families think about healthy eating; developing peer-led health promotion programming at faith-based organizations in DC Ward 7.
  • Recent Student Roles
    Conduct and analyze interviews with mothers to understand how parenting stress influences child feeding behaviors; design materials and artwork for a mindful-parenting intervention manual; explore obesity stigma in medical students through coding qualitative open-ended survey data.

Visit: Health, Well-being, and Mindfulness Lab

Healthy Schools, Healthy CommunitiesDr. Stacey Snelling

  • Primary Aims
    Addressing individual and community needs within the social, economic, and cultural contexts where people live, work, learn, and worship. With a focus on DC Wards 7 and 8, project stress methods of facilitating changes, from the individual level to system-wide policies, to support healthy behaviors, increase access to healthy foods and physical activity, and reduce risk factors that contribute to chronic disease.
  • Recent Student Roles
    Data collection in community locations such as schools and corner stores; data entry and analysis. Lifestyle change program planning, delivery and evaluation. Evaluate impact and outcomes of programs. Prioritize underserved populations in all projects to support health equity. 

Visit: Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities

Lavender LabDr. Ethan Mereish

  • Primary Aims
    Better understanding and reducing health disparities related to sexual orientation, gender, and racial/ethnic factors. The lab conducts NIH-funded research on the psychological, social, and cultural determinants of health for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals and racial/ethnic minorities.
  • Recent Student Roles
    All facets of the research process, from designing studies, data collection and cleaning, recruiting participants, and presenting results from the lab’s studies.

Visit: Lavender Lab

Nutritional Neuroscience LabDr. Kathleen Holton

  • Primary Aims
    Studying how food additives negatively influence neurotransmission and how dietary nutrients may help prevent excitotoxicity, especially on ways exposure to dietary excitotoxins can lead to neurological symptoms, including pain, cognitive dysfunction, paresthesia, gastrointestinal disorders, memory loss, inattention, impulsivity and centrally mediated fatigue, as well as psychiatric symptoms like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and attentional difficulties.
  • Recent Student Roles
    Research roles include presenting research and helping market studies on social media platforms; actively collecting data; entering data into Excel and Nutrition Data Systems for research; analyzing data in statistical programs like SPSS, SAS and R.

Visit: Nutritional Neuroscience Lab

Youth and Family Resilience & Wellbeing LabDr. Caroline Kuo

  • Primary Aims
    Development, testing, and bringing to scale policy relevant and context appropriate interventions for young people and their families in low resource settings. Active projects include studies in South Africa focused on primary prevention of perpetration of violence and prevention of HIV risk among boys; evaluation of a combination prevention designed to prevent acquisition of HIV among girls and young women; and a resilience focused family intervention to bolster adolescents mental health and diminish HIV risk.
  • Recent Student Roles
    Monitor and maintain the integrity of data systems including high quality data; analysis of qualitative and quantitative data; design of intervention materials including program implementation manuals and training materials.

Selected Health Studies Research

Advancing Telehealth Technology & Innovation in DC WICDrs. Jessica Owens-Young & Anthony Panzera 

  • Recent Student Roles
    Supporting research evaluation activities to understand the adoption, implementation, and outcomes of telehealth use in local DC WIC agencies. Activities include survey data analysis, interviewing key informants and clients, analyzing qualitative data,  and preparing manuscripts and presentations.

Black Women’s Movement to Reclaim Our HealthDr. Martinique Free

  • Primary Aims
    Illustrate, highlight, and analyze efforts of health activists and organizations centered specifically on Black women’s health through the use of the AU Humanities Truck: we explore ways health activism on behalf of Black women evolved within the last several decades, what unique ways Black women’s health issues arebeing addressed through activism, and how efforts translate into policy change.
  • Recent Student Roles
    Recruiting project participants, creating marketing materials, developing content for social media, conducting and analyzing interviews, developing surveys.

Corner Store Communities in COVID-19Dr. Melissa Hawkins

  • Primary Aims
    Illustrate the impact of the pandemic on DC residents’ food security by interviewing residents about their experiences at community corner stores. We document the food security challenges and residents' resilience during COVID-19 in DC Ward 7 and 8 with the AU Humanities Truck, DC Central Kitchen Healthy Corners Program, and Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities).
  • Recent Student Roles
    Analyzing transcripts and collecting data for this qualitative project examining the lived experience of DC residents.

Selected Publications

Essel, K. D., Fotang, J., Deyton, L., & Cotter, E. W. (In press, accepted January 19, 2021). Discovering the Roots: A Qualitative Analysis of Medical Students Exploring Their Unconscious Obesity Bias. Teaching and Learning in Medicine.

Elizabeth Cotter continued work on NCCIH K23 Award, Reducing Maternal Stress to Improve Obesity-related Parenting Practices (K23AT011049). Currently conducting Aim 1, interviews and focus groups with mothers in Washington, DC. 

Hawkins M., Belson S.I., McClave R., Kohls L., Little S., Snelling A. (2021) Healthy Schoolhouse 2.0 Health Promotion Intervention to Reduce Childhood Obesity in Washington, DC: A Feasibility Study. Nutrients.

McManus K., Bertrand A., Snelling A., Cotter E.(2021) In their own words: Parents and key informants share facilitators and barriers to healthy eating. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Hawkins M., Fuchs H., Watts E., Belson S.I., Snelling A. (2021) Development of a nutrition literacy survey for use among elementary school students in communities with high rates of food insecurity. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.

Holton K. “Glutamate Based Treatments for Chronic Pain Management.” 2nd Edition of Glutamate and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Current and Emerging Treatments, edited by Zoran Pavlovic, Springer Nature Publishers, October 2021.

Holton K. Micronutrients May Be a Unique Weapon Against the Neurotoxic Triad of Excitotoxicity, Oxidative Stress and Neuroinflammation: A Perspective. Frontiers in Neuroscience, section Neuroenergetics, Nutrition and Brain Health. Sep 2021.

Murray S., Holton K. Post-traumatic stress disorder may set the neurobiological stage for eating disorders: A focus on glutamatergic dysfunction. Appetite. 167. July 2021.

Kirkland A., Baron M., VanMeter J., Baraniuk J., Holton K. The Low Glutamate Diet Improves Cognitive Functioning in Veterans with Gulf War Illness and Resting-State EEG Potentially Predicts Response. Nutritional Neuroscience. July 2021.

Sarlo G., Holton K. Brain concentrations of glutamate in human epilepsy: A review. Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy. June 2021.

Holton K., Ramachandra S., Baraniuk J. Effect of the Low Glutamate Diet on Inflammatory Cytokines in Veterans with Gulf War Illness (GWI). Life Sciences. May 2021.

Chrisler, A.J., Claridge, A. M., Staab, J., Daniels, S. R., Vaden, V., & McTaggart, D. (2021). Current evidence for the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for children undergoing medical procedures. Child: Care, Health and Development.

Bertrand A., Hawkins M., Cotter E.W., Snelling A. (2021) Interest in receiving nutrition information through social media among food security program participants in Washington DC. Preventing Chronic Diseases.

Hawkins M., Misra D., Zhang L., Price M., Dailey R., Giurgescu C. (2020) Family involvement in pregnancy and psychological health among pregnant black women. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Special Issue: Social Determinants of Health.

Hawkins M. & Panzera, A. (2020) Food insecurity: A key determinant of health. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Special Issue: Social Determinants of Health.