Dayton families sought for study on whether trauma can be inherited

Families in the Dayton area are being asked to join a long-term study on how trauma is passed down from generation to generation and what can be done about it to benefit children’s mental health.

Dr. Kerry Ressler, McLean Hospital’s chief scientific officer and a professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is heading the study. The Connor Group’s nonprofit arm gave $625,000 to the program, which was named the Connor-McLean Healthy Kids Development Program after the Miami Twp. real estate firm.

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The study will enroll families in Dayton as part of a long-term program to understand the role of stress on biological mechanisms that contribute to risk in developing children.

Ressler said epigenetics is the study of reversible biological mechanisms that regulate the function of people’s genome. Factors like toxic stress and poverty could change these epigenetic markers and lead to the development of mental and physical disorders over time.

“The results of this study will help us understand why some children are more vulnerable to developing mental and physical health problems, while others seem surprisingly resilient,” Ressler said.

Epigenetics has been growing but the jury is still out on whether emotional trauma definitely triggers a generational biological and health change. Some animal studies have had promising evidence.

Epigenetics is different than trauma passed to the next generation through parenting or families living for generations in the same stressful or dangerous environment.

The research team includes University of Dayton and Dayton Children’s Hospital. The study recently expanded to include families from the broader Southwest Ohio area, as well as from Detroit and Atlanta. Enrolled families, which includes parents and children ages 8 to 10 years old, participate biannually in online questionnaires and by sharing mail-in saliva samples.

Participation in the study is voluntary, with financial compensation for each study visit. Those interested in learning more about the study can visit or e-mail or

In the long term, researchers believe the study’s results will help identify actionable markers before the onset of mental health problems, and provide earlier and more effective interventions for at-risk children.

“It can sound like determinism when we’re talking about things that are inherited, but really we’re looking at things that are potentially modifiable and that could be changed within the lifetime if resources are allocated appropriately and if intervention is early enough,” said Lucy Allbaugh, PhD, with UD’s Department of Psychology.

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