Center for the Collaborative Study of Trauma, Health Equity, and Neurobiology


Center for the Collaborative Study of Trauma, Health Equity, and Neurobiology [THEN]


In Chicago and across the country, community violence, poverty, and widespread and long-standing discrimination are forcing all of us to examine our existing paradigms and find new formulas for healing and transformation.  Recent rapid advances in basic science are making important inroads to uncover the interactions between a person’s experiences (both positive and negative), brain function, and coordination of the neurologic, immune and endocrine systems.  We are learning how disruption of these systems can result in acute and chronic illness, adoption of health risk behaviors as antidotes to suffering, and even early death.  Highlights of this research include:

  • Evolving recognition that the central nervous system, immune, and endocrine systems are in fact one system, continuously communicating through signal crosstalk
  • Demonstration that disruption of the immune system and inflammation may represent a common pathway of many acute and chronic illnesses
  • Neurobiological evidence that the brain and nervous system can change (neuroplasticity), making it possible to identify negative impacts on the brain from traumatic experience and providing hope that these processes can be reversed, leading to clinical, cognitive and functional improvement
  • Clear substantiation that Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adverse Community Experiences with their resulting toxic stress may disrupt early caregiver-child attachment as well as subsequent relationships, derail optimal physiologic development and act as a root cause of our most pressing physical health, emotional and social problems
  • Growing confirmation that the experiences of racial, gender and ethnic discrimination, as well as childhood adversity, are likely major contributing factors to disease and Health Disparity in the current as well as in multiple subsequent generations.
  • Promising affirmations that positive relationships, foundational health practices, self-regulation activities, creation of safe and supportive environments , and fully meeting basic individual and collective human needs can prevent, mitigate and treat the short and long-term health consequences of household and community adversity.

Despite the rapid growth of this compelling research and its vast health and social impacts, the topics of trauma, the potential physiologic basis of health disparity, and complex neurobiological function play a limited role in most academic curricula and are not currently seen as a core competency for clinicians.

VISION:  By 2025, curricula of academic medicine and related health professional training programs/sciences will include core concepts of the impact of adverse experiences/trauma on neurodevelopment, lifelong health and health equity, and strategies for prevention, mitigation and treatment of consequences of trauma.


To create a center of excellence, based in Chicago, as an Educational Program of the Hektoen Institute which:

  • Develops and disseminates model curricula for medical and health professional training that includes core concepts of trauma, health equity, and neurobiology as well as practice recommendations
  • Promotes collaborative, interdisciplinary learning, innovation, and clinical and basic science research
  • Develops a curated and annotated bibliography of high impact science articles from related fields
  • Sponsors local journal club/webinar and presentations three times per year
  • Holds a biennial science symposium open to the public
  • Coordinates interdisciplinary summer health professional student projects and faculty development seminars
  • Joins with others to provide translation of science exploring adversity, trauma, resilience and flourishing into personal and community health conversations/actions