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Sheila O. Walker, PhD

Center for the Childhood Origins of Disease

Research Associate

Departmental Affiliation(s):

Population, Family and Reproductive Health

Contact Information

615 N. Wolfe Street, E4011
Baltimore , Maryland   21205
US        

Education

PhD , Kings College

Overview

Dr. Walker's research examines how biological research in genetics, epigenetics, and other biological analytes (hormones, antibodies, and chemicals) can complement social research to promote healthy behavior, fortify learning environments, reduce rates of chronic disease, and optimize health outcomes throughout life. Her work is focused on the biological embedding of chronic stress (the mind-body link) and biological sensitivity to context (individual differences in reactivity to environmental factors) to enhance health and educational outcomes, with an emphasis on high-poverty family and educational contexts.  She is particularly interested in understanding how stress reactivity can be modified via natural solutions such as nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindset coaching, and meditation.  Dr. Walker’s research is also focused on understanding preconception, prenatal and early childhood origins of health and neurodevelopment, and on examining how biosocial research on adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress can be applied in a practical manner to facilitate early intervention, prevention, resilience, and enhanced quality of life.   

Dr. Walker’s doctoral research in the field of Behavioral Genetics at Kings College London examined the relative influence of genes and the environment on educationally relevant behavior.  Her work focused primarily on the potential for biological data to inform and optimize individual learning outcomes by examining the respective influence of “nature” and “nurture” on academic achievement, cognitive abilities, and children's perceptions of their classroom environments.

Dr. Walker has devoted a portion of her academic career to instructing an undergraduate course in Behavioral Genetics at Georgetown University focused on the dynamic interaction between nature and nurture in human development.  Prior to entering academia, Dr. Walker was a mutual fund Portfolio Manager in Denver, Colorado. She attended the University of Colorado on a tennis scholarship and played professional tennis in Europe after graduation.  Dr. Walker is married with three boys and lives in Washington, DC.

behavioral genetics, genetics, epigenetics, psychoneuroimmunology, education, healthy schools, stress,  nutrition, exercise, sleep, ADHD, executive function, autism, chronic disease

    Selected publications from the past 10 years

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    Wang, G., Divall, S., Radovick, S., Paige, D., Ning, Y., Chen, Z., Ji, Y., Hong, X., Walker, S.O., Caruso, D., Pearson, C., Wang, M-C., Zuckerman, B., Cheng, T., Wang, X. “Preterm birth and random insulin levels at birth and in early childhood”.  Accepted for publication, Journal of the American Medical Association.  
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    Yu, Y., Zhang, S., Mallow, E.B., Wang, G., Hong, X., Walker, S.O., Pearson, C., Heffner, L., Zuckerman, B., Wang, X.  “The combined association of psychosocial stress and chronic hypertension with preeclampsia in a U.S. urban, predominantly minority population”. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2013, 209(5): 438 e1-438e12. 

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    Wang, G. Walker, S.O., Hong, X., Bartell, T.R., Wang, X. “Epigenetics and early life origins of chronic diseases”, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013, 52: S14-S21.  

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    Walker, S.O., Petrill, S., Spinath, F.M., Plomin, R. "Nature, nurture and academic achievement: A twin study of teacher assessments of 7-year-olds." British Journal of Educational Psychology 74.3 (2004): 323-342. 

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    Plomin, R., Walker, S.O. "Genetics and educational psychology." British Journal of Educational Psychology 73 (2003): 3-14.