Jessica M. Gill, PhD, RN
Lasker Clinical Research Scholar
Tissue Injury Branch
Division of Intramural Research
Building 10-CRC, Room 2-1339
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814
Trauma patients often leave the hospital with no follow-up or preventive care, resulting in high morbidity risks. Dr. Jessica Gill is investigating effective ways to identify trauma patients who are at high risk for psychological and neurological deficits and informing the interventions that will support their recovery.
Currently, Dr. Gill is developing a novel line of research in an effort to reveal the mechanisms underlying differential responses to combat trauma and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This line of inquiry employs a cutting-edge type of biomarker harvesting technology using a nanoparticle capture platform in a prospective sample of patients immediately following a trauma. Findings from her research will identify the clinical and biological risks that predict post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) onset and neurological compromise following a traumatic injury.
In her research, Dr. Gill combines biological methods—including proteomics and epigenetics—with neuronal imaging to follow a unique sample of patients during their immediate recoveries and for years afterwards to better understand the risk and resiliency factors related to clinical outcomes. Dr. Gill plans to use this knowledge to improve methods for identifying patients at high risk for psychological and neurological impairments following a traumatic injury, and ultimately develop preventive interventions that are personalized to meet the needs of each patient—mitigating these risks and preserving health.
Dr. Jessica Gill’s interest in research began during her nursing undergraduate (B.S.N.) career, during which she volunteered with women and children whose lives were negatively affected by violence. She observed that this extreme stress resulted in differing outcomes with some women being substantially impaired, whereas others were able to recover. She questioned the mechanisms underlying these divergent responses to extreme stress. This line of questioning led her to pursue a graduate degree (M.S.) from Oregon Health and Science University in psychiatric nursing, which included clinical training in the PTSD program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Research questions about trauma and resiliency were amplified during her work with Vietnam veterans who remained impacted by their combat service decades after returning home. Based on these volunteer and clinical experiences, she decided to pursue a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing. Her dissertation research demonstrated the presence of high rates of PTSD in urban health care seeking women, and that a PTSD diagnosis was associated with perceived health declines as well as with higher concentrations of inflammatory markers and a dysregulation of endocrine functioning.
Following completion of her Ph.D., she obtained a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) to better understand the biological mechanisms of PTSD and depression, finding central and peripheral alterations in the in-vivo functioning of both immune and endocrine systems. This line of research also led her to become a Clinical Investigator in the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM).
At the CNRM, her program of research and clinical practice expanded to examining the biological mechanisms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury related impairments in service members where, again, she observed a high degree of differential response to combat trauma and TBIs. This experience led to questions regarding the mechanisms underlying these differential responses, a line of inquiry that could only be determined using a prospective design of patients immediately following a trauma. Dr. Gill returned to NINR as a Lasker Clinical Research Scholar to develop this program of research, which aims to determine the clinical and biological risks that predict PTSD onset and neurological compromise following a traumatic injury.
- Heinzelmann M, Reddy SY, French LM, Wang D, Lee H, Barr T, Baxter T, Mysliwiec V, Gill J. Military Personnel with Chronic Symptoms Following Blast Traumatic Brain Injury Have Differential Expression of Neuronal Recovery and Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Genes. Front Neurol.2014;5:198. doi:10.3389/fneur.2014.00198. View PubMed abstract.
- Reddy SY, Rasmussen NA, Fourie NH, Berger RS, Martino AC, Gill J, Longchamps R, Wang XM, Heitkemper MM, Henderson WA. Sleep quality, BDNF genotype and gene expression in individuals with chronic abdominal pain. BMC Medical Genomics 2014 Oct 31; 7(1):61. [Epub ahead of print]
- Palta P, Page G, Piferi RL, Gill JM, Hayat MJ, Connolly AB, Szanton SL. Evaluation of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention Program to Decrease Blood Pressure in Low-Income African-American Older Adults. J Urban Health. 2012.
- Gill JM, Szanton S. Inflammation and traumatic stress: the society to cells resiliency model to support integrative interventions. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2011;17(6):404-16.
- Kwako LE, Szanton SJ, Saligan LN, Gill JM. Major depressive disorder in persons exposed to trauma: relationship between emotional intelligence and social support. J Am Psychiatr Nurses Assoc. 2011;17(3):237-45.
- Gill J, Luckenbaugh D, Charney D, Vythilingam M. Sustained elevation of serum interleukin-6 and relative insensitivity to hydrocortisone differentiates posttraumatic stress disorder with and without depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;68(11):999-1006.