Researching the Genetics of Resilience

Conversation with Kosuke “Ko” Niitsu, MSN, APRN-NP, PMHNP-BC

In 2015 Kosuke Niitsu was awarded a $10,000 grant from the American Psychiatric Nursing Foundation to fund his research, "Genetic Influence on Resilience to Potentially Traumatic Events". Niitsu, currently a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, took the time to share a little bit about his research with us.

Kosuke "Ko" Niitsu, 2015 APNF Grant Recipient
Kosuke "Ko" Niitsu, MSN, APRN-NP, PMHNP-BC, 2015 APNF Research Grant Recipient.

How it Started

KN: When the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster occurred on March 11, 2011, I noticed that people react very differently to the same event. While some people continue to struggle with horrific memories and nightmares, others are able to bounce back and even experience growth because of the event. I became curious what makes such a difference in people’s reactions when we face challenges.


The Research

KN: Most of us at some point go through difficult times, yet many of us are surprisingly ‘resilient’, able to eventually smile and move forward. I would like to find out what may help us stay resilient. My ideas include supportive friends/families, certain personal characteristics, and, particularly with this research, our genetic makeup. I have finished collecting questionnaire data and DNA samples (from cheek cells) and am now running gels in the Behavior Genetics Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to find out which version of genes my research participants have.


Why it Matters

 KN: We know there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ intervention to address mental health concerns. Resources are limited especially in the face of chaotic situations, such as natural disasters. If people experience adversity and carry genetic variations that predispose them to stress-related disorders, they may be at increased risk for PTSD, for example. Scientists have begun to find that people with the same ‘vulnerability’ genes may also have the potential to flourish if in a more supportive environment.


The Future

KN: As psychiatric-mental health nurses, we understand how important the environment is. I believe it is our responsibility to create a caring environment, preferably an individually tailored milieu, to maximize people’s potential to become resilient. It is my lifelong goal - beginning with this research - to develop personalized interventions, possibly based on an individual’s genetic makeup, to increase efficiency and aid us in this.


Final Thoughts

KN: I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my PhD committee members: Drs. Julia F. Houfek (chair), Michael J. Rice, Scott F. Stoltenberg, Kevin Kupzyk, and Cecilia Barron for their support and guidance throughout the research. I also want to thank APNA: I was selected as an APNA Student Scholar in 2012 and it gave me a new identity, commitment, and motivation. I have participated in APNA Annual Conferences for the past five years and I am very much looking forward to Hartford in October!


Want to join Niitsu as an APNF Research Grant recipient? The APNF is now accepting applications for the 2016 funding cycle. Learn more and apply here.

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