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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

Sheila Walker’s doctoral research in the field of Behavioral Genetics 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. As well, her work explored teacher and parent perceptions of the importance of genetic and environmental influences for behavioral traits relevant for the field of education. 

Presently, Dr. Walker's research involves examining 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 the life course. Specifically, she is interested in the biological embedding of chronic stress (the mind-body link), and how research on biological sensitivity to context (individual differences in reactivity to environmental factors) can be translated and applied to enhance health and educational outcomes.  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 the prenatal and early childhood origins of health and neurodevelopment, and in examining how biosocial research on adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress can be harnessed to facilitate early intervention, prevention, resilience, and enhanced quality of life.  She enjoys teaching, and has devoted a portion of her academic career to instructing an undergraduate course in Behavioral Genetics, 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. Her first job after college was as a professional tennis player in Europe. 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.