AME Center Research Studies

The Stress Free UC Study

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The Stress Free UC Study is a large-scale, randomized control trial examining the relationship between stress and mindfulness in UC employees. It is the first study of its kind, spanning five UC campuses, including UCSF, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, and UC Riverside. This study is fully digital, and participants are asked to use a digital mindfulness application daily.

Researchers at UCSF are partnering with the Healthy Campus Network to execute the two components of the Stress Free UCSF Study. The first component, the larger Parent Study, is a broad, survey-based study tracking the stress and mindfulness of UCSF employees from before the mindfulness intervention to 12 months post-intervention. The second component, or the Sub-Study, is examining various signs of biopsychological health, including body measurements and biological indices, in overweight UC employees before and after the meditation intervention. Medical and employment records are also being collected to assess the real-life implications of stress and mindfulness on health. For more information, visit

The Stress Free UCSF Study is actively recruiting for Research Assistant Interns to assist with the main study and upcoming sub-study. Interested parties can find more information and apply here.

P.I.(s): Aric Prather and Elissa Epel
Project Director(s): Samantha Schilf and Julie Vaccaro

HBI: UCSF Healthy Beverage Initiative Study

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The AME Lab is currently conducting the Healthy Beverage Initiative Study in conjunction with the UCSF Wellness Center. In response to the strong evidence base linking consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages to chronic diseases (including obesity and diabetes), the UCSF Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI) eliminated the sale of sugar sweetened beverages on all UCSF campuses and hospitals.

The HBI Study is comprised of two parts. The first part, the larger Parent Study, is a wide survey-based study that tracks the sugar sweetened beverage consumption of UCSF employees from before the sales ban to 12 months post-ban. The Metabolic Substudy is comprised of frequent sugary beverage-drinkers from within the Parent Study Sample. We will look at various signs of metabolic health, including body measurements, weight, insulin reactivity, and liver function, before and after the sales ban.

We are actively looking for full- and part-time Research Assistants to work with our HBI team. Please click here for more information regarding joining the HBI team

P.I.: Elissa Epel
Co-P.I.: Laura Schmidt
Project Director: Allison Hartman



SAGE: The Stress, Aging, and Emotions Study

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SAGE, the Stress Aging and Emotions study for parents, is the third in a series of examinations of how the chronic stress of being a family caregiver affects cellular aging. Drawing on a sample of mothers of children on the autism spectrum, the study seeks to understand how psychological stress affects the body and mind. We aim to identify patterns of vulnerability and resilience to stress, to help with development of a hardiness intervention. We measure biological aging primarily by looking at immune cell telomeres, which form the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, as well as telomerase, the reparative enzyme that keeps telomeres in good working order. Telomeres appear to act as a cellular clock that runs faster under physiological and psychological stress. The intensive study of resilient coping will help shape interventions.

P.I.: Elissa Epel
Co-P.I.: Elizabeth Blackburn
Co-Project Directors: Amanda Gilbert & Justine Arenander


Mr. SAGE: Stress, Aging, and Emotions Study in Men

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This study examines bidirectional effects between daily psychological processes, stress arousal, and nightly sleep, among of fathers of children with autism spectrum disorder. A complementary study to SAGE (see above), it also examines daily dyadic interactions within couples coping with the stress of parenting and how these dynamics affect nightly sleep. Lastly, it examines how these relationships might change after a mindfulness based parenting stress intervention.

P.I.s: Aric Prather & Elissa Epel
Project Director: Amanda Gilbert


HEART: Health Enhancement Resilience Training: A mobile health intervention


Drawing from principles of evidence-based mindfulness stress-reduction, we are developing and testing a smart phone application that aims to reduce stress, increase emotional resilience, and slow the effects of stress related cellular aging. The app will include very brief "in the moment" exercises, social interaction and bio-sensor monitoring (breath-rate and heart rate variability), as well as tracking and feedback. This project includes two main phases, (I) an iterative design approach with rapid prototyping and user feedback to determine effective messaging and feature design and (II) a pilot test of the feasibility, efficacy and effectiveness of the smart phone intervention by assessing app use and engagement, telomere length and other biomarkers of stress and cellular aging, and stress related behaviors.

P.I.: Elissa Epel
Co-P.I.: Eve Kupferman
Project Director: Amanda Gilbert


MAMAS: Maternal Adiposity, Metabolism, and Stress Study

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Carrying excess weight can increase the risk of health problems during pregnancy, and predicts excess gain during the short period of gestation. The MAMAS study is built on the premise that simple recommendations for diet and exercise may not be enough to help women maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. The goal of the study is to learn if providing stress reduction skills and mindful eating training, in addition to encouraging good nutrition and physical activity, will help low- to middle-income overweight women achieve healthy weight gain during pregnancy and reduce stress. The study will also follow the health and temperament of the babies (led by Nicki Bush, Ph.D.)

Multiple P.I.s: Elissa Epel, Barbara Laraia, & Nancy Adler
Project Director: Kimberly Coleman-Phox


SEED: Stress, Eating, and Early Development Study

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Environmental influences during the first years of life, beginning in the womb, are strong determinants for later life health. Accumulating evidence from prenatal programming and developmental research shows how early life stress and poor nutrition can affect health across the life course. Can better nutrition and lower stress during pregnancy improve a baby's nervous system development and metabolism? In this study, we follow the offspring born to women in the MAMA's prenatal intervention study. We examine how offspring body composition, temperament, emotion regulation, and executive function develop over the first four years of life, and whether those babies born to women in the intervention group develop more optimally than those born to women from a "treatment as usual group."

P.I.: Nicki Bush
Co-P.I.: Elissa Epel


SHE: Stress, Hormones, and Eating Study


The SHE study seeks to better understand facets of Food Addiction. It examines how women's levels of stress and natural opioids in the brain are related to weight and cravings for certain comfort foods. Our ultimate goal is to develop a biological test that will help people know how opioid dependent they are, and what type of eating/weight interventions might help them the most.

P.I.s: Elissa Epel, Barbara Laraia, & Nancy Adler
Co-P.I.: Ashley Mason


SHINE: Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise

SHINE is a clinical trial that examines the effects of two different 6-month weight loss programs for obese, non-diabetic adults on weight, body fat, and psychological well-being. The two programs both include nutrition and exercise components, as well as stress management techniques aimed at long-term weight loss. The key outcomes include weight loss and maintenance, body fat distribution, insulin sensitivity, psychological well-being, stress hormones, immune function, and cell aging.

P.I.: Rick Hecht
Co-P.I.: Elissa Epel
Project Director: Patty Moran


RARS: The Relaxation and Retreat Study

Does going to a resort for a week have the same effects as being in a meditation retreat, at the same resort? With a collaborative group of researchers, we examined the psychological stress processes, self-identity, and aging biology of healthy women randomized into a resort or meditation retreat group. The retreat group was taught body and mind awareness, mantra meditation, and self-reflection. We are examing the short term changes in cell function and well-being (over days) and a month later.

P.I.s: Elissa Epel and Eli Puterman
Co-Investigators: Elizabeth Blackburn, Jue Lin, Cassandra Vieten, Rudi Tanzi, Eric Schadt, Robert Rissman, Steve Wagner, Mike Raffi
Study Coordinators: Samantha Schilf and Amanda Gilbert


CRONA: Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition & Aging Study

In non-human species like rats, yeast, mice, flies, worms, fish, and even rhesus monkeys, caloric restriction causes lifespan to increase, sometimes by ten-fold. The Caloric Restriction with Optimal Nutrition & Aging (CRONA) study tests whether long-term human calorie restrictors might also have signs of slowed aging. This project is in collaboration with former postdoctoral fellow Dr. A. Janet Tomiyama, now at the Departments of Psychology and Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University.

P.I.: Janet Tomiyama
Co-P.I.s: Elissa Epel and Elizabeth Blackburn

Learn more about this study from Dr. Janet Tomiyama in this video.


Exercise and Cell Aging Study

The Exercise and Cell Aging study is the first human randomized clinical trial that tests whether an aerobic exercise intervention can boost telomerase levels in sedentary and unfit young to mid-life adults. Exercise is well known to benefit individuals biologically, but to date, only cross-sectional work highlights the associations between a healthy physical activity regimen and telomere biology in humans. This study is underway at Columbia University in collaboration with Dr.'s Richard Sloan and Daichi Shimbo, in the Division of Behavioral Medicine in the Psychiatry Department.

P.I.: Elissa Epel
Co-P.I.s: Eli Puterman & Richard Sloan


Know Your Telomeres

The Know Your Telomeres Study examined change in telomere length as a function of health behaviors and stress levels over the course of one year in 250, 50 to 65 year old healthy and community-dwelling women. In the study, half the women were told their telomere length at the start of the study, and all women were followed for one year to examine the effects of information about one's own personal telomere length on behaviors, and the possible resulting changes in telomere length at followup.

Co-PIs: Eli Puterman, Elissa Epel
Co-Investigators: Elizabeth Blackburn, Jue Lin,
Study Coordinator: Samantha Schilf


Social Status, Cellular Aging, and Mortality

Using data from a national health survey, this study will be the first to examine telomere length in a nationally representative sample, expanding on past findings linking socioeconomic status (SES) to shorter telomere length, and telomere length to mortality. The study examines these relationships in a racially and ethnically diverse sample, and moderating effects of genetic vulnerabilities, as well as mediating effects of health behaviors.

P.I.: Elissa Epel
Co-P.I.: Belinda Needham