Gonzalez-Guarda Awarded $3.4 Million to Improve Immigrant Health

Groundbreaking research will improve the health and well-being of young adult Latino immigrants.

October 23, 2017

Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, MPH, RN, CPH, FAAN, associate professor in the Duke University School of Nursing, is the primary investigator on a $3.4 million grant awarded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. This grant will provide resources to improve the health and well-being of young adult Latino immigrants.

Currently, Hispanic immigrants are healthier when they arrive in the United States than they are when they have lived here for a lengthier period of time. Gonzalez-Guarda’s grant will fund research surrounding stress and resilience in the Durham area Hispanic immigrant population.

“I came [to Duke] very much interested in Latino health disparities and using community-engaged strategies."

-Dr. Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda

Gonzalez-Guarda’s study, “Salud/Health, Estrés/Stress, and Resiliencia/Resilience Among Young Adult Hispanics Immigrants in the U.S.,” will examine the role of multiple acculturation stressors and resilience factors at the individual, family, and community levels in the decay or maintenance of health among Hispanic immigrants aged between 18-44 years old.

Gonzalez-Guarda’s team will be following participants of the study over a two-year period. During the study, the team will visit every six months to collect blood and urine samples and self-reported data using validated and culturally specific measures. The team will measure co-occurring behavioral and mental health conditions including substance abuse, intimate partner violence, risky sexual behaviors, and depression, as well as stress biomarkers including chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Gonzalez-Guarda used resources from the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) to kickstart her research and secure funding.

“I came here very much interested in Latino health disparities and using community-engaged strategies,” she said. “My colleagues in the School of Nursing were very good about letting me know about the resources that are available through CTSI. I was drawn to CTSI’s Community Engagement Core and started participating in their activities.”

One of those activities was a meeting group for researchers seeking feedback from their peers. “I was really struggling to keep true to the issues that I know Latinos really care about, but at the same time be strategic about the priorities of funders. My peers challenged me to find that balance, and the grant that was funded is aligned with the work that I’m really interested in.”

Although Gonzalez-Guarda’s previous work has identified acculturation stress as the most important social determinant of risk behaviors among Latino immigrants, this study will help identify which types of stressors matter most and how. It will also help explain how coping strategies, family support, and community connections provide a buffer against the behavioral and mental health and biological consequences of stress.

"I was drawn to CTSI’s Community Engagement Core and started participating in their activities.”

“The findings of this study will help inform tailored interventions to prevent the health consequences of stress and promote resilience among young adult Latino immigrants,” said Gonzalez-Guarda. “They also have important implications for health and social service providers, as well as policy makers.”

As she pursues her own research and develops relationships in the Durham community, Gonzalez-Guarda is also becoming increasingly involved in CTSI activities. She now co-directs the CTSI Pilots Core, which offers funding and project management for preclinical and early-stage research.

“I have been very fortunate to come to Duke at a time when there is a lot of strategic movement around population and community health improvement, driven by CTSI and the Chancellor’s strategic focus."

Gonzalez-Guarda is working with a dynamic team that includes experts in culturally-specific measurement and approaches, community leaders, and a bench scientist with expertise in measuring stress biomarkers. Her co-investigators include experts from the Duke University School of Nursing: Julia Walker, PhD; Irene Felsman, DNP, MPH, RN, C-GH, and community partners from El Centro Hispano: Pilar Rocha-Goldberg.

Portions of this report were contributed by Duke School of Nursing.