Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAHA, FAAN, was recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine, and part of what those who selected her considered was her research on gene-environment interaction and its effects on blood pressure among African Americans.
“African American women have the highest incidence and prevalence of hypertension among any ethnic, racial, and gender group in the United States,” explains Taylor, who works at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing as the first Vernice D. Ferguson Endowed Chair. “It is important for me to understand not only the genetic or hereditary underpinnings of this health disparity, but also the psychological and/or environment interaction with genomic risks that may influence development of hypertension.”
In her research, Taylor says that she’s focused for the most part on African American women and children. Most of her studies have drawn on two or three generations of African Americans. While the ages of the children studied have often been wide, in her most recent study, she targeted children from head start programs, who ranged in age from 3-5 years old, along with their biological mothers.
“We have had a lot of discoveries in our research and have disseminated our findings in journals ranging from nursing, medical, public health, genomic, and interdisciplinary. Overall, we have found that gene-environment interactions for certain factors such as parenting stress, perceived racism and discrimination, and others significantly influence increases in blood pressure,” says Taylor.
She admits that she wasn’t shocked by the findings: “The findings were not all that surprising as I expected that social determinants of health were significant factors in health outcomes and looking at the combinatorial effects with genetics and epigenetics only further illuminates that magnitude of interaction on health outcomes such as hypertension,” Taylor says.
Although Taylor says that her research is important because of what she did discover, “One important aspect of the research is that we are able to identify genetic risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension in children as young as three prior to them developing the disorder. Early identification of risk provides an opportunity for nurses and other health professionals to intervene to reduce risk of developing hypertension as in previous generations. Interventions based on the research with this population may require focusing on social determinants of health and lifestyle modification in addition to or rather than conventional pharmacological methods.”