May 31, 2012
Marital communication about a spouse’s genetic test results may influence the overall well-being of the person who has been diagnosed, his or her spouse, and the couple. Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences, and faculty affiliate of The Methodology Center, along with a team of Penn State researchers, is investigating this phenomenon with the goal of designing future couple-based interventions.
Smith recently received a $40,000 grant from the Alpha-1 Foundation through their ESLI mechanism (Ethical, Legal and Social Issues Related to AAT Deficiency) to support the pilot project, titled, "Alpha-1 & Couples: Beliefs, Communication, and Well-Being." Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (alpha-1) is a hereditary condition that damages the lungs or liver and makes individuals vulnerable to pulmonary and liver diseases such as emphysema and cirrhosis.
"Beliefs about possible genetic stigmas and discrimination may influence who couples disclose the diagnosis to and what they share," Smith said. "And these decisions could very well shape people's stress levels, social networks and even insurance coverage -- all of which factor into overall well-being."
To fully explore these complex relationships and decisions, Smith has brought together an interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Roxanne Parrott, distinguished professor of communication arts and sciences, and health policy and administration; Donna Coffman, research associate at The Methodology Center and research assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Development; Kathryn Peters, a genetic counselor; Mary Poss, professor of biology, and veterinary and biomedical sciences; and Michelle Baker, postdoctoral researcher. Members of the team are also affiliated with the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, the Methodology Center, and the Center for Medical Genomics.