Jessica Hollenbach, Ph.D. is Co-Director of the Asthma Center at Connecticut Children’s and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Her primary research interests include the implementation and dissemination of effective asthma programs in underprivileged communities , as well as understanding the developmental origins of childhood asthma to better prevent disease. “My main focus of research is pediatric asthma and I do clinical translational research using community-based research methods,” explains Hollenbach.
Dr. Hollenbach is interested in understanding the relationship between chronic stress and asthma, using a novel biomarker known as hair cortisol. She also studies how stress translates to asthma exacerbation and greater asthma morbidity, focusing on communities that experience disproportionate rates of asthma, particularly the Latinx and African American communities.
Hollenbach is a basic scientist by training with a Ph.D. in biomedical science, but decided to apply her training on chronic disease prevention. “I was doing stem cell and cancer research and felt disconnected from the people and patients I was ultimately trying to help,” she explains. “So, I took a step back and I thought about rather than treating the disease after the fact, how can I prevent chronic disease.” Hollenbach started at UConn Health in the Department of Molecular Medicine, studying how DNA repair pathways regulate stem cells in flatworms. After deciding she was more interested in preventing chronic disease, she reached out to colleagues at Connecticut Children’s. This led her to join the Asthma Center in January 2013. Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting children in the United States and in the world. “I was able to become a certified asthma educator and get a master’s degree in clinical and foundational research, so now I have the proper fundamentals needed to conduct clinical research versus basic benchwork,” explains Hollenbach.
Involvement with CSCH
Hollenbach joined CSCH because of the school-based projects that she has been conducting as Co-Director of the Asthma Center. “I started working on a school-based asthma project when I joined the Asthma Center, and I really liked the aspect of working with children in school and with school nurses, because I saw a big need for treating and caring for children with asthma where they are for most of the day, which is in school,” she says. When looking for collaborators who were also doing school-based work, Hollenbach stumbled upon the professionals in the Collaboratory. “I think the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model is important because you don’t view the child in one realm; you really need to take into account where that child lives, breathes, plays at all times,” says Hollenbach.
For the past several years, Dr. Hollenbach has been evaluating the Easy Breathing for Schools program, a nurse-centered school-based asthma program designed to identify students with asthma who are at high risk for adverse outcomes and assist school nurses in better managing those students. “The primary goal of Easy Breathing is to improve academic performance by reducing school absenteeism by improving asthma control,” says Hollenbach.
After she became a clinical asthma researcher, Hollenbach’s husband’s dormant asthma symptoms came back and her father-in-law developed eosinophilic asthma, further solidifying her commitment to the field.