Colleagues continue research of UB nursing scholar who died in car accident

Ellen Volpe.

Late University at Buffalo assistant professor of nursing Ellen Volpe. Photo: School of Nursing

Ellen Volpe was developing a promising treatment for PTSD among urban youth when tragedy struck

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Jennifer Read.
“We’ll all feel this is slightly less tragic if we’re able to at least finish what she started and then see if there’s anything else we may be able to do to grow this. ”
Jennifer Read, professor in the UB Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Colleagues of late University at Buffalo nursing researcher Ellen Volpe will carry on her professional legacy by completing a research project that was left unfinished at the time of her death.

The research, an investigation of the effectiveness of narrative exposure therapy (NET) as treatment for violence-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in low-income, urban adolescents, will be continued by Jennifer Read, PhD, professor in the UB Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“One of the things about Ellen that so many people have commented on is that she really was devoted to this population,” says Read. “In academia, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re doing research for. You get focused on papers and grants and conferences, but when I talked to Ellen about her research, she never lost sight of the fact that she wanted to do this because she wanted to help these kids.

“Ellen’s dedication was so inspiring. We just want to see that inspiration come to something, in some small way. We’ll all feel this is slightly less tragic if we’re able to at least finish what she started and then see if there’s anything else we may be able to do to grow this.”

The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health KL2 Mentored Career Development Awards (MCDA), a training grant that matches young investigators with experienced faculty to advance promising lines of inquiry in clinical and translational science.

At the time of her death, Volpe, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, was one of two MCDA scholars whose research was also supported by UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). Volpe’s research would not have proceeded without the support of the CTSI, says Read.

“It was a training grant, and, of course, Ellen was a trainee, and if she’s not there, there’s no grant to be had,” she says.

Read, whose original role was to serve as a mentor to Volpe and provide oversight, has now taken over as principal investigator.

Along with UB doctoral students Lauren Rodriguez and Tiffany Jenzer, and post-baccalaureate research support specialist Colleen Quinn, Read plans to implement the therapy at Compass House, a homeless shelter and resource center for at-risk youth in Buffalo.

NET, a validated treatment for trauma and PTSD, helps victims make sense of their trauma by having them tell their stories to others. The therapy, says Read, guides patients to “realize that they can have this experience of remembering it and that they’re going to be okay.”

NET was originally developed as an intervention to treat refugee populations in shelters and refugee camps in war-torn countries. Volpe’s novel approach was to translate the therapy to an urban setting.

“What Ellen hypothesized is that we can try this intervention with another population that we know is at risk for trauma, and that’s urban youth. They are facing a number of different kinds of stressors,” says Read.

Timothy Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine, says that the research aligns with the vision of the CTSI to perform research to improve the health of the community, focus efforts on reducing health disparities and engage vulnerable populations in clinical research.

“The leadership of the CTSI Translational Pilot Studies Program was unanimous in supporting this important work,” says Murphy. “In terms of translating a novel therapy into a practical intervention that stands to benefit the underserved members of our community, and employing an interdisciplinary, team science approach, this work represents the very best of what the CTSI can do to improve health outcomes in Western New York.”

Volpe was 45 when she died in June in a five-car collision on the New York State Thruway. She is survived by her husband and two sons.

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