Turning great ideas into healthier communities

Barbara Cohn, PhD, MPH

Director and Senior Research Scientist, Child Health and Development Studies

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.

Chemical Safety During Breast Cancer Susceptibility Windows

Child Health and Development Studies (CHDS) will design an environmental chemical safety testing strategy to discover the chemical pathways that might trigger breast cancer. CHDS believes that chemical testing may be effective at identifying dangerous exposures in human populations. It is unlikely that there is a single chemical pathway to breast cancer. The pathways are likely to depend on type and level of exposures, and when they occur, including during windows of susceptibility (such as the prenatal period, post-puberty adolescence, time at first birth, and menopause). With data from three generations of women, CHDS will 1) identify pathways to breast cancer during two windows of susceptibility; 2) identify different pathways in vulnerable populations (such as ethnic minorities); and 3) identify the role of environmental chemical exposures within these pathways.

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.

Grandparental Exposures and Risk of Autism in the Third Generation

The Child Health and Development Studies Group (CHDS) will test the hypothesis that grandparental exposures during peri-conception and pregnancy predict increased risk of autism in the grandchildren byL

  1. Identifying cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and unaffected controls in the CHDS grandchildren
  2. Identifying relationships between peri-conceptual risk factors in both grandmothers and grandfathers to autism in their grandchildren

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.

Neurodevelopmental Health of Grandchildren of CHDS Cohort Women

This grant is to support the CHDS study of neurodevelopmental health of grandchildren of CHDS cohort women.

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.

Rethink Plastic

Child Health and Development Studies will test an intervention to reduce the impact of environmental estrogens on breast cancer by reducing use of plastics.  It is anticipated that the scientific evidence linking environmental estrogens to breast cancer is strong enough to act.

Plastics were chosen because they are common sources of environmental estrogens. As a Community Research Collaboration pilot study CHDS researchers will be joined two community partners: the Participant Advisory Council (PAC) of the CHDS and the Plastics Pollution Coalition (PPC).

Stress, Resilience and Aging Processes

The CHDS is the longitudinal study from which the CHDS Health Disparities Study participants were recruited. Dr. Cohn and her research team are partnering with Dr. Suglia and Shelton, the PIs of the current study and their team, to develop measures relevant to the project goals from the large sets of variables available in the archival data, participate in calls monitoring study progress, and conceptualize and prepare key papers to achieve the specific aims of the grant in collaboration with the Columbia team.

To support the Natural Progression of Celiac Disease Within a Multi-Generational Cohort Study

To provide information about the consequences of untreated celiac disease, increase awareness of the disease and potentially provide evidence of the importance of screening children and young adults, reducing the disease’s impact on multiple generations.

Correlation of Body Mass Index with Serum DDTs Predicts Lower Risk of Breast Cancer Before the Age of 50 (2018)

Context Many suspected breast cancer risk factors, including the pesticide DDT and its metabolite DDE, are stored in fat. PHI's Child Healt...

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Third Trimester Estrogens and Maternal Breast Cancer: Prospective Evidence (2017)

Context  Full-term pregnancy is associated both with a transient increase and life-time decrease in maternal breast cancer risk. Estrone (E1...

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According to the WHO, cancer is among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 mill...

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Research - Quantitative

To make an effective impact on community health, public health practices, programs and policies must be informed by accurate research and analysis....

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