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McDade Lectures on Early-Childhoods, Stress, and Inflammation in Second Tay Gavin Erickson Event

Thomas McDade

A standing room only crowd was on hand for the second Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture featuring Thomas McDade, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology from Northwestern University.  His lecture focused on his work in the Philippines where he examines the impact of early-environmental factors on chronic inflammation rates, which is linked to cardiovascular disease later in life.  

By working with longitudinal data from Philippines, a country with a lower standard of living than the United States, McDade is able to isolate the key variable of chronic inflammation, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), and compare it cross-culturally.  Although CRP is a necessary part of the immune system, chronically high levels of CRP have been linked to cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Measuring levels of CRP, which rises in response to inflammation, McDade finds that, even when controlling for other factors, Filipino adults have lower levels of chronic inflammation, as measured by the presence of CRP.  

To explain this, McDade examined early-childhood factors, specifically factors that lead to an exposure to microbes.  He postulates that early mircrobial exposure has programming effects that help the body to better regulate CRP later in life, and therefore, leads to lower levels of CRP and a reduced risk of developing CVD.  McDade’s work helps to explain the differences of chronic inflammation measured between American and Filipino adults, when controlled for factors like waist circumference.

As it relates to stress, McDade has found a correlation between perceived stress and levels of CRP, however it was not statistically significant.  When looking at the relationships between stress, early environmental factors, and CRP in the Filipino study however, there is a significant correlation between the microbial exposure, stress, and levels of CRP. 

McDade, who is currenty a principal investigator or associate on seven federally funded grants, was invited to campus as part of a dual sponsorship between the Stress Research Cluster and the Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture Series.  

As part of the Center for Research on Families (CRF), the Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture Series brings nationally recognized speakers with expertise in family research to campus each year. The speakers provide public lectures, highlighting the importance of research on the family and its implications for public policy, and provide research consultation to CRF Family Research Scholars. The lecture series began in 1999 though an endowment established in memory of Tay Gavin Erickson.

The next Tay Gavin Erickson Lecture, “Inflammation and Its Discontents: The Role of the Immune System in the Pathophisiology of Depression” which features Andrew Miller, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University School of Medicine will take place on Thursday, November 3rd at 4:00pm.

View the full video of the lecture on YouTube.