Muchira studys links in mother-child cardiovascular health, coronavirus anxiety

Vanderbilt researchers are prolific and resolute in their pursuit of transformative research and innovation. During the pandemic, more than 3,000 Vanderbilt research personnel have returned to in-person research activities, while many others have continued remotely through perseverance and ingenuity. On campus and at home, they are making discoveries that advance knowledge and improve lives. 

The story below is part of a series highlighting the impact of the Research Ramp-down and Ramp-up processes and the various ways Vanderbilt researchers and their teams have persisted in their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This and other compelling stories in the series are by Jenna Somers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, School of Nursing postdoctoral fellow James Muchira designed a study to examine the relationship between maternal cardiovascular health and early childhood obesity and arterial stiffness in 1- to 5-year-old children. To prioritize the safety of the participants and research personnel, Muchira altered recruitment and data collection protocols upon returning to the lab through Vanderbilt’s Research Ramp-up process.

James Muchira headshot“Even before the pandemic, recruitment posed the greatest challenge,” Muchira said. “Initially, we planned to recruit participants from one location in East Nashville but have since expanded recruitment throughout the whole city. Participants now complete questionnaires online through REDCap instead of in person, with researchers visiting participants’ homes.”

Likewise, Muchira’s team meets study participants at the School of Nursing’s research offices instead of at their homes or in the community, which are the preferred environments since they enhance repeatability to other settings and validate personalized interventions in real-life conditions. Researchers collect data on maternal cardiovascular health as defined by the American Heart Association’s metrics (blood pressure, blood glucose, blood cholesterol, physical activity, smoking, body mass index and diet). They also measure the mother’s 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure and arterial stiffness and the child’s pulse wave velocity (arterial stiffness). The blood pressure device provides readings over 24 hours for a full diagnostic assessment of blood pressure and arterial stiffness indices at natural home settings, which is important since the device captures blood pressure changes when someone is awake or sleeping, allowing it to detect white coat or masked hypertension.

Since many people experience clinically significant fear and anxiety during an infectious disease outbreak, Muchira’s team also added a coronavirus-anxiety scale (CAS) to the questionnaires. The CAS is a self-report mental health screener of dysfunctional anxiety associated with the coronavirus crisis developed to help clinicians and researchers efficiently identify cases of individuals functionally impaired by coronavirus-related anxiety. “Knowing that the pandemic would almost certainly affect our participants, we felt it was critical to assess the mothers’ feelings and experiences, and whether that might affect their blood pressure as well,” Muchira said.