Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

Dina Tell Cooper, PhD

Dina Tell Cooper, PhD joined the research group of Drs. Linda Janusek and Herb Mathews at the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing in October 2009.  

Dr. Tell immigrated to the United States from Kazakhstan as an adolescent.  She received her BA in psychology, graduating with honors, from Case Western Reserve University and her MA and PhD in Developmental Psychology, with additional focus on statistics, from Loyola University Chicago.  Dr. Tell’s predoctoral research investigated perception and understanding of emotion in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Postdoctoral training

During her 3-year postdoctoral training, Dr. Tell directed a National Cancer Institute funded study that examined the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) on reducing stress reactivity in women with breast cancer.  For the study, she evaluated heart rate variability, salivary IL-6 and salivary cortisol in response to the Trier Social Stress Test to determine whether MBSR reduces stress reactivity and the inflammatory response to stress via the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway.  This project was a companion study to the parent R01 conducted by Drs. Janusek and Mathews that evaluates the effect of MBSR on psychosocial well being, sleep, depression, cortisol diurnal rhythm and immune function relevant to cancer control.

Dr. Tell recently reported findings that daily changes in sleep behaviors and ongoing sleep disturbance and fatigue disrupt the cortisol diurnal rhythm. In contrast, prior-day napping promotes a more robust cortisol rhythm. These findings are relevant to breast cancer patients who often experience sleep disturbance and fatigue. Disruption of the cortisol rhythm can adversely affect health, and for women with breast cancer, such disruption may impair cancer control.  For more details about this study, see: Psychosomatic Medicine, 75(7): 519-528, 2014.

Psychoneuroimmunology and behavioral epigenetics

Since joining Drs. Janusek and Mathew’s research team, Dr. Tell has further developed her interest in psychoneuroimmunology and behavioral epigenetics including investigating how early life experiences contribute to the changes in epigenetic mechanism of gene regulation and influence behavior and health later in life.  In September 2012, Dr. Tell was awarded a 3-year American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship to elucidate the role of life adversity in the risk for more intense and prolonged inflammation-related behavioral symptom expression, specifically fatigue, depressive symptoms and sleep disturbance in women with breast cancer, evaluated from breast cancer diagnosis through early survivorship. This project also investigates how adverse experiences contribute to the changes in epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation to predispose women to an exaggerated inflammatory response and worse behavioral symptoms during their breast cancer treatment.

Behavioral symptoms not only erode quality of life in women with breast cancer, but also can reduce compliance with cancer treatment, as well as impair immune-related cancer control mechanisms.  Preliminary findings provide support for an epigenetic pathway that explains the relationships between adversity and inflammation, which may predispose women to worse behavioral symptoms during their cancer treatment.  Upon completion, the insight gained from this project will allow for a development of more tailored interventions to reduce the burden of symptom distress and inflammatory risk, which subsequently can jeopardize cancer control.