Wayne State University

Aim Higher

School of Medicine

Contact Us

Tolan Park Medical Building 3901 Chrysler Service Drive Detroit MI 48201

Research Projects

Our list of current research projects:

Stress Risk and Resilience in Syrian and Iraqi Refugees and Survivors of Torture

The Syria Civil War has exposed millions of civilians to extreme physical and emotional trauma. However, little is known about the mental health impact on refugee children. 

This is a study of the interaction between trauma, neurobiology, and culture. In this project, we measure stress and vulnerability biomarkers in Iraqi and Syrian refugees who are resettled in the US. We aim to find the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression, and other impacts of trauma. We also assess chronic level of stress during the few months prior to arrival to the United States, through measurement of hair cortisol. This will be an indicator of level of exposure to stress during the stressful states of migration. We also do genetic study of vulnerability and resilience factors to the effects of trauma in this unique cultural and ethnic group. We also will look at epigenetic aspects of the trauma within the family structure. We will also look into inflammation markers to probe potential role of inflammation in the effects of trauma.

So far, we have collected data on more than 400 children and adults in this project.

Cognitive Context In Fear Conditioning And Extinction Learning

This study is in line with one of the questions in our lab: How does personal interpretation and understanding of a traumatic experience (cognitive context of trauma), affect the way people are differently traumatized by an event. Also to explore combined effects of cognitive and exposure components of therapy of anxiety disorders and PTSD.

In this fear conditioning fMRI study, we examine the neurocircuitry underlying learning of fear and safety as an effect of instruction and experience. This examination will help fill in gaps between laboratory models of trauma and exposure therapy (which are mainly based on experiential learning of safety and fear), and the reality of trauma in humans and therapy where there is always a cognitive contextual component present. This can also help in examining possible aberrances in learning of fear and safety as a result of combination of experience and information. We will look at how instructed and experiential learning of fear and safety may be different across healthy participants, and people with generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD.

Bringing Exposure Therapy to Real Life Context with Augmented Reality and Telepsychiatry

This project will use the novel technology of Augmented Reality (AR) in conjunction with telepsychiatry as an innovative method of exposure therapy. The purpose is to overcome the geographical barriers for access to trained therapists, bringing the patient and the therapist to the real world environment of the patient, and help in contextualization of safety learning in as many real life environments as possible. While in a real-life environment (e.g. their own house), patient wears the AR device and connects with the therapist via wireless telepsychiatry platform. The clinician sees the patient's environment on their computer monitor, and will position the feared AR objects in that environment to create an augmented exposure scenario. With rapid advances in AR technology, this work could significantly improve treatment efficacy for anxiety disorders and PTSD, as well as substance use disorders. Patent is pending for this method, and we are working on developing a proof of concept prototype.


Intervention Therapy Through Non-Verbal Emotional Expression

This summer, our team developed an intervention study providing three alternative therapies for stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression in refugees. The intervention program includes 12 weeks of dance, art, and yoga classes aimed at providing means of non-verbal emotional expression, somatic engagement, and social support to women and child refugees who have resettled in the Southeastern Michigan area. The yoga classes are designed for adult women, and the dance and art classes are designed for young children (7-12) and adolescents respectively. The majority of our participants are attending as families. This project is in collaboration with Holly-Feen Calligan of Wayne State, Nicole Teufel of Blue Moon Wild Yoga, and the local non-profit organization Samaritas. We have completed our first round of classes and are currently planning a second cycle of the program for 45 new participants. If you would like to make a donation to this study, please click the following link!