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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Rutgers Professor Awarded NIH Grant to Study Pregnancy’s Long-term Effects on Mothers

Rutgers School of Public Health associate professor, Dr. Emily Barrett, along with colleagues, has been awarded a five-year, $2.6 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support research and development of initiatives that promote health and reduce the burden of illnesses and disabilities in mothers.

[Photo: Dr. Emily Barrett]

Pregnancy marks a period of extreme and rapid physiological changes for an expectant mother: immune, endocrine, and metabolic systems change quickly to sustain the growing fetus. These changes are traditionally thought to reverse by six months postpartum; however, evidence suggests that for some women, these changes may continue for years after giving birth. For example, women with high gestational weight gain (GWG) have elevated risks of hypertension and obesity nearly two decades later. Understanding changes during the perinatal period may help to identify who is at risk for future cardiometabolic problems and the modifiable factors that reduce those risks.

To learn more, Dr. Barrett, grant co-principal investigator, along with lead principal investigator, Dr. Susan Groth, associate professor of nursing at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, and Dr. Thomas O’Connor, professor of psychiatry in the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, have proposed a longitudinal study that extends from early pregnancy until three years postpartum and capitalizes on the infrastructure of their ongoing pregnancy cohort: Understanding Prenatal Signals and Infant Development (UPSIDE). The team will examine changes in hormones as well as immune and metabolic biomarkers from the first trimester of pregnancy through three years postpartum. The team will study these biomarkers in relation to weight profiles during and after pregnancy, and ultimately hopes to determine how lifestyle factors like breast-feeding and physical activity may protect against future cardiometabolic risks in postpartum women.

As rates of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases in women continue to climb, Dr. Barrett’s work will help shed light on risk factors that we do not yet fully understand. This knowledge has the potential to identify opportunities for future targeted and personalized plans to prevent the development of cardiometabolic conditions in the future.

Grant funding began in April.