PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — As mindfulness-based health interventions increase in popularity, Brown University is set to launch a new center for research and public service focused on increasing the quality of the evidence base and promoting adoption of well-proven mindfulness practices.
The Mindfulness Center at Brown University aims to help scientists, health care providers and consumers alike better understand whether particular mindfulness interventions work, for which health concerns, and for whom, said Eric Loucks, director of the center and associate professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health.
“There are early research findings that mindfulness may positively impact mental health and physical health outcomes,” Loucks said. “As a result, there is an increased market for interventions based in these practices. All around Rhode Island, the country and the world, there are people looking to learn more. We are bridging across Brown’s fields of study, with an emphasis in epidemiology, to focus on methodological rigor in the field.”
Brown Provost Richard Locke and School of Public Health Dean Terrie Fox Wetle will join Loucks at a Sept. 13 event to launch the center. The kickoff will also include faculty members from fields as diverse as biostatistics, religious studies and psychiatry at Brown and at partner universities along with providers of evidence-based mindfulness interventions, including from the Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital, who have affiliated with the center.
The wide range of disciplines coming together through the center will be a key to its ability to make an impact, Locke said.
"The center is emblematic of Brown’s distinctive approach to research, serving as a hub for innovative and rigorous mindfulness research and teaching, and forging connections across the disciplines to find solutions to pressing issues, including health and wellness," Locke said.
In addition to Loucks, other Brown faculty members who will be integral to the Mindfulness Center’s work include Willoughby Britton, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Jared Lindahl, visiting assistant professor of religious studies, Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, assistant professor of medicine, and Brandon Gaudiano, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior.
Loucks has studied the relationship between mindfulness and cardiovascular health for years. In 2015, for example he, Lindahl and Britton received a $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether and how different mindfulness-based interventions change people’s ability to “self-regulate” their attention and behavior and whether that can help people better follow medically recommended lifestyle alterations, such as changes in diet.
Since then he’s been working with colleagues at Brown, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts. In all, the teams are running five randomized, controlled trials of mindfulness interventions looking at outcomes including medication adherence, mood, blood pressure and other key health indicators. The coordination among those teams, Loucks said, provides a perfect example of how a center can enhance mindfulness research across the board.
“We are in steady communication with each other, sharing health measures between the studies so if one study affects a health outcome, we can learn whether the other studies do as well,” Loucks said. “It’s one thing to do one-off studies, but it’s another to see how data compares across studies.”
In that vein, Loucks’ team has been working with researchers from Brown’s Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health to conduct systematic reviews of the evidence for mindfulness-based interventions. That further expands their ability to understand the scope of — and the gaps in — the evidence.
Launched with a $50,000 award from Brown’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the Mindfulness Center has the resources to launch pilot studies as it pursues further grants and other funds.
Another key capability of the new center, Loucks said, will be to share best practices and advice on evidence and study design with others planning research studies. Collaborations could include partnering on multisite trials of mindfulness interventions.
Already the center is convening like-minded researchers, Loucks said. In January, for example, faculty will convene the first-ever worldwide meeting of scholars studying mindfulness and cardiovascular health.
The center will not only study mindfulness benefits but also its potential to produce challenging experiences for practitioners as well, Loucks said.
“We are going in with open eyes, investigating impacts of mindfulness on health effects and reporting what we find, whatever it is,” he said.
Outreach and service
Indeed, consumer information and protection is a main goal of the Mindfulness Center’s mission to not only improve mindfulness research, but also to disseminate those results broadly, Loucks said.
In the coming weeks, the center will launch a website listing local mindfulness providers who offer evidence-based interventions. Information will include the intended health effect of the intervention, the target population and a description of how the provider evaluates and maintains treatment quality.
The center will also work with community providers who aren’t conducting their own research services, including offering the ability to perform systematic program evaluations, Loucks said.
“I hope that we will provide a clear, simple pipeline for consumers to know who is offering evidence-based mindfulness interventions that can help them,” he said. “We want to build the quantity and the quality of such interventions.”