2023 138 ENV

Nature-Based Intervention Effects on Telomere Length and Cardiovascular Health

By: Isabella Ramirez, Jessi Jeronimo

Departments: Chemistry & Biochemistry, Biology

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Leticia Marquez-Magaña, Rebecca Margarita Mendez, Genievive del Mundo

Background: Systemic racism disproportionately affects communities of color and has been found to contribute to premature cellular aging that can have adverse cardiovascular outcomes. Cellular aging has been linked to the shortening of telomeres and telomere length dictates whether or not cells important for cardiovascular function regenerate. Therefore, it is important to maintain telomere length for cardiovascular health and anti-racist access to greenspaces may provide a low-cost intervention for achieving this outcome.
Aim/Approach: Our study seeks to investigate how a nature-based intervention (NBI) affects telomere length and resting heart rate (a well-known measure of cardiovascular health) in BIPOC TAY (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color of Transitional Aged Youth) populations in the San Francisco Bay Area. We hypothesize that there is a correlation between telomere length and resting heart rate. Furthermore, we predict that our NBI will halt telomere shortening and/or lower resting heart rate in BIPOC TAY.

Experimental Design: BIPOC TAY aged 18-26 were recruited from the San Francisco Bay Area through Student Insider Researcher (SIR) outreach efforts. To date we have recruited 80 participants who have met eligibility criteria. Of these, 30 have experienced the NBI in a private Redwood site in California (Cohort A). Their results will be compared to a comparison group (Cohort B) that has yet to experience the NBI as part of a staggered waitlist control design. This design allows for comparison of groups who experience NBI and those who do not, and ensures all participants have access to the NBI. All participants are instructed to measure their resting heart rate using the Instant Heart Rate mobile application once a week before getting out of bed in the morning. Saliva samples are collected pre and post NBI and sent to a UCSF lab for telomere length processing.

Expected/Preliminary Results: We expect a correlation between telomere length and lower resting heart rate. Furthermore, we expect telomere length to remain the same in the experimental group and some shortening of telomeres in comparison group. Similarly, we expect a lower resting heart rate for the participants in the experimental group and no change in the comparison group. Preliminary results for Cohort A shows that telomere lengths range from (X-Y) and weekly heart rates vary from (X-Y).

Conclusion/Implications: More research on the effects of systemic racism on cardiovascular disease in minority populations is needed. The community-engaged research approach used in this study is expected to contribute to the implementation of nature-based treatments and ultimately lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease in BIPOC communities. Completion of our study is expected to influence policy change leading to increased access to green spaces for BIPOC communities.