New Assistant Professor Gillespie Advances Nursing Research

While studying for her PhD at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, new Assistant Professor Shannon Gillespie, PhD, RN, worked on a study that measured how a biomarker called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) affects pregnant women. The study, now published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, shows that low BDNF levels precede depression in the mother and low birth weight in the baby. Gillespie’s graduate mentor, Lisa Christian, PhD, was principal investigator of the study, aided also by Ohio State researchers Amanda Mitchell and Marilly Palettas.


These findings are exciting for Gillespie, because they mean that testing biomarkers in pregnant women, such as BDNF levels, could predict these complications before they happen, in order to help prevent them. She is currently developing a program in precision health in pregnancy “to help clinicians select the right preventive intervention for the right obstetric patient at the right time, by developing screening tools for use in pregnancy,” she says.


Gillespie’s interest in health care and nursing was spurred by personal experience. “My mom, my family and I went through a five-year battle with cancer when I was an undergrad,” she relates, and that’s when she got a first-hand look at the role nurses play in health care. After getting her bachelor’s in psychology, she went straight into the College of Nursing’s graduate entry program, and focused on obstetrics. “I think it was the aspect of family that brought me in. I wanted to be a part of people’s adventures with their new family.”


Gillespie’s experience with cancer informed her approach to obstetric research. “Cancer care has been transformed by the precision health approach, which allows clinicians to optimize care of their patients by taking into account tumor biology, and individual differences in the patients,” she says. “We’ve not yet made these strides in prenatal care.” Gillespie’s research focuses on developing biologically-informed screening tools to test for risk of prenatal complications and provide targeted prevention.


Gillespie’s current research includes a project entitled “DNA methylation markers of preterm birth risk among asymptomatic African American women,” funded by the American Nurses Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science. Her many awards and honors include the Midwest Nursing Research Society’s Women’s Health and Transitions in Childbearing RIG Research Publication Award and Sigma Theta Tau International’s Graduate Student Award through the Epsilon Chapter. She has also been selected to participate in Ohio State’s “REACH for Commercialization” program.


Gillespie, who grew up in Columbus, says proudly of her family, “We’re big Ohio State people!” Two of her siblings followed her to The Ohio State University College of Nursing: her brother, who is a senior graduating in 2017, and her sister, a sophomore (2019). 


For more information about Gillespie's research, click here and here.