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Crespi Lab Research Team


Erica Crespi, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Principal Investigator
School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University

My research seeks to understand how environmental stressors and nutrition affect early developmental processes in animals, including humans. I focus on examining the ways in which the neuroendocrine stress axis and energy balance factors interact to regulate growth, morphogenesis, and immune function during early life stages. I am also interested in how these endocrine systems program later life behavior, physiology, growth, and reproduction through their organizing effects during early development.

I primarily use amphibian model systems to study environmental and maternal effects on developmental plasticity, but I also investigate similar questions in other animals. I combine molecular, cellular, endocrine and behavioral approaches to understand these complex and interrelated responses in ecological and evolutionary contexts. I strive to apply our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying short- and long-term stress responses to adverse environmental conditions across all animals. My multidisciplinary research program allows students to work on projects in the laboratory, in the field, or both.

Masha Gartstein, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Department of Psychology, Washington State University

Dr. Gartstein’s research addresses temperament development, primarily in early childhood. The emphasis on identifying typical trajectories of growth for reactive and regulatory tendencies is coupled with efforts to discern risk and protective factors relevant to the emergence of psychopathology.  Dr. Gartstein has examined a spectrum of environmental factors contributing to temperament attributes “coming online”, including parental temperament, parenting/parent-child interactions, and cultural influences. More recently, her work has focused on biological underpinnings of temperament, examining prenatal effects and postnatal physiological correlates. Current studies are addressing effects associated with maternal physiological and psychosocial stress during pregnancy, including epigenetic mechanisms. The Gartstein laboratory has also been collecting infant electroencephalogram (EEG) data reflecting brain activity associated with reactive and regulatory aspects of temperament. Another project wherein genomic parameters of infant microbiome are identified and linked with temperament attributes is currently underway. This research is conducted in collaboration with several WSU laboratories, as well as multiple domestic and international partners.


Denise Smart, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
College of Nursing, Washington State University

Dr. Denise Smart has 34 years of nursing experience in both civilian and military institutions. Her doctoral studies in public health have provided her with a broad understanding of population specific risk factors. She has focused on women and children’s health for 20 years and served on the Occupational Health Working Group for the Air National Guard for seven years. Denise has participated in numerous disaster response military exercises and she has conducted both funded and unfunded research in the fields of sleep and shift work in nurses, compassion fatigue in hospital staff, mastitis education in undergraduate nursing students, and physiologic responses to disaster training in Army and Air National Guard personnel.


Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
College of Nursing, Washington State University

Dr. Celestina Barbosa-Leiker is the Associate Dean for Research and an Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at Washington State University (WSU). She is also the Director for the Program of Excellence in Addictions Research and a member of the Committee on Cannabis Research and Outreach at WSU. Dr. Barbosa-Leiker’s primary research investigates gender differences in opioid use. He research has demonstrated sex differences in the measurement of opioid withdrawal, relapse while in treatment, and predictors of relapse. Her additional line of research focuses on the transition from pregnancy to parenthood in women with substance use disorders. She is currently leading an interdisciplinary research team to assess mothers, infants, and healthcare providers in order to better care for women with opioid use disorders, as well as for women using cannabis during pregnancy. The results of these studies will help better educate healthcare providers and pregnant women, inform maternal and infant health policy, and improve standards of care. Dr. Barbosa-Leiker has methodological expertise in psychometrics and longitudinal latent variable modeling.


Jennifer Madigan, Graduate Researcher, Co-Investigator
School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University

My research focuses on how maternal wellbeing during pregnancy effects offspring’s early development and their long-term stress resilience. I primarily focus on cortisol research using human hair. I use both behavioral and molecular approaches to understand the effect of stress on mothers and their children. I am also interested in looking at environmental factors and how they impact early development and epigenetics.

I have a deep connection to the military because I was raised in that lifestyle. Both my parents were enlisted in the Navy, so I am aware of the unique experiences that military families face on a day to day basis. My hope is that the research I conduct with military populations can improve the lifestyle of military families in the future.