Turning great ideas into healthier communities

Barbara Cohn, PhD, MPH

Director and Senior Research Scientist

Barbara A. Cohn, PhD, is director of the Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) at PHI. CHDS is home to a groundbreaking study, which originated in 1959, designed to shed light on the various factors impacting health during pregnancy and early childhood. Between 1959 and 1967, 15,000 pregnant women and their families were enrolled. Researchers continue to study these rich data and conduct important follow-up studies to further examine how events during pregnancy impact the subsequent health of fathers, mothers and their children and grandchildren. Cohn consults with researchers around the world on the use of the CHDS data for health research.

 In addition, Cohn directs research examining how pregnancy protects against breast cancer and influences other health problems in mothers and their children in order to identify natural protective mechanisms that can be used for prevention. She also investigates whether early life exposure to environmental chemicals during pregnancy affects obesity, immune function, reproductive health, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer in mothers and their children across the life span.

Cohn holds a doctorate in epidemiology, a master's degree in city and regional planning, a master's degree in public health planning and a bachelor's degree in zoology, all from the University of California, Berkeley.

A Lifecourse Approach to Emerging Health Disparities in a U.S. Cohort

This study, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Development, is a new collaboration between CHDS investigators and Columbia University. The focus of this project is to understand how and when racial and socioeconomic disparities in health emerge over the life course. It will provide critical information for understanding why disparities exist and how they might be addressed.

Early Determinants of Adult Health

This collaborative project between Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) investigators and Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of California, Davis, and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research examines how prenatal and childhood factors influence the risk for diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and brain function in adulthood. This project launched a new era of research at the CHDS focused on adult health of CHDS "children."

Early Determinants of Mammographic Density

The purpose of this study by the Child Health and Development Studies, Kaiser Permanente and Columbia University is to learn more about the effects of the prenatal period and early childhood on women's adult health, particularly the health of their breasts. It examines whether mammographic density (which may be linked to later risk of breast cancer) is related to prenatal or early childhood factors.

Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer Across Generations

This study tests the idea that prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals increases the risk of breast cancer. Many of these compounds are known to affect fertility, birth outcomes and immune function and are thus suspected causes of or contributors to breast cancer. However, no human study has been able to measure exposure in the womb, a time of vulnerability for the developing fetus.

Fetal Exposure to Maternal Stress and Inflammation: Effects on Neurodevelopment

PHI serves as a subcontractor to Temple University's National Institutes of Health award for Fetal Exposure to Maternal Stress and Inflammation: Effects on Neurodevelopment. The scope of work includes identifying available serum samples, assisting investigators with correspondence and approvals, batching the serum, receiving results and appending them to the data files for the project.

Identification of Spectrum Neurodevelopmental Sequelae in CHDS Cohort

In this pilot study, CHDS will identify cases of spectrum of neurodevelopmental sequelae including ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorders, mental illness, emotional disturbance, social cognitive deficits not rising to the level of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and more, in addition to ASD in the CHDS cohort grandchildren. 

In Utero Organochlorine Exposure and Breast Density

Tests the hypothesis that in utero exposure to organochlorine compounds alters breast density in women measured at 40-44 years of age. High breast density is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

Maintenance of Child Health and Development Studies Name and Address Files

The project's general aims are: 1) to maintain the accuracy of the Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) files for name and addresses, mortality and occurrences of malignancies; 2) to manage the CHDS serum collection; and 3) to facilitate the biomedical and psychosocial studies through dissemination of data to qualified researchers without violating participant confidentiality.

Prenatal Determinants of Schizophrenia, II

This study investigates the role of prenatal determinants of schizophrenia and schizophrenia spectrum disorder.The study builds on and extends two prior investigations: the original Child Health and Development Study and the Prenatal Determinants of Schizophrenia Study, This project is a collaboration with Kaiser Foundation Research Institute.

Prenatal Exposure to Environmental DDT and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

In partnership with the University of California, Davis, PHI will compile and send de-identified epidemiology data, send serum samples to the Cal-EPA laboratory for organochlorine chemical analysis, complete organochloine chemical assays under the CAL-EPA director's supervision, record and de-identify assay results and append these to an analysis file, locate and send samples to the Clinical & Epidemiologic Research Laboratory at Children’s Hospital Boston for HbA1C and lipid assays, record and de-identify assay results and append these to the analysis file, provide epidemiologic methods and statistical consulting, and assist with analysis interpretation and manuscript preparation.

Prenatal Factors and Risk of Bipolar Disorder

This study examines the relationship between early developmental insults and risk of adult bipolar affective disorder. Investigators aim to better understand early developmental risk factors for bipolar disorder, and assess whether these factors are specific to schizophrenia. This project is a collaboration with the Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene.

Prenatal Organochlorine Exposure and Male Reproduction (Study of the Environment and Reproduction)

This is a joint project between the Child Health and Development Studies, Kaiser Permanente and Columbia University. It examines the effects of prenatal exposure to pesticides and men's fertility. Prenatal exposure to pesticides could occur if a man's mother was exposed to pesticides before or during her pregnancy. Some pesticides are stored for long periods in body tissues and might affect the developing reproductive system of a fetus.

Prenatal Organochlorine Metabolites, Thyroid Function and Development

This study is to assess whether exposure to metabolites of endocrine disrupting compounds during pregnancy is associated with 1) adverse development in the offspring at birth, childhood and adolescence and 2) mild deficiencies in the maternal thyroid function, as well as whether adverse developmental findings, if any, are attributed in part to deficiencies in exposure to maternal thyroid hormone in utero. This project is a collaboration with Columbia University.