Dr. Barrett is an Associate Professor in the Rutgers University School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology. She received an A.B. in Biology and English from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Harvard University. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California-Los Angeles. Before coming to Rutgers, she was on the faculty at the University of Rochester, where she remains an Adjunct Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Public Health Sciences
Dr. Barrett studies the early origins of health and disease, or how exposures early in life shape our subsequent health and developmental trajectories. Because gestation is a particularly sensitive period when body systems are first forming, insults or exposures during this period may have profound downstream effects. Much of Dr. Barrett’s research focuses on prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors, agents which interfere with the normal activity of hormones in the body. Phthalates are a class of endocrine disrupting chemicals that are found widely in food and consumer products. Nearly 100% of Americans have measurable levels of phthalate metabolites in their bodies, yet our current understanding of how these chemicals affect our bodies is limited. In The Infant Development and the Environment Study (TIDES), Dr. Barrett and colleagues are studying how prenatal exposure to these chemicals impacts reproductive and neuro-development, and whether the effects may differ in boys and girls.
Other exposures, such as psychosocial stress, disrupt early development as well. Numerous studies have examined how stress during pregnancy may alter cortisol activity and “program” neurodevelopmental, metabolic, and immune outcomes. Much less is known about the extent to which prenatal stress (and related constructs, like anxiety) may also act through other pathways and mechanisms to affect the fetus. For example, evidence from animal models and humans suggests that prenatal stress may alter in utero androgen activity, thereby affecting sex-dependent development in the offspring. Dr. Barrett and collaborators are exploring this hypothesis in the Understanding Prenatal Signals and Infant Development (UPSIDE) Study, with an eye towards better understanding the early origins of sex differences. Concurrent work in this cohort will examine how maternal inflammation during pregnancy contributes to infant and child development. One of the major themes of this research is understanding the role of the placenta in communicating messages about stressors from mother to fetus (and vice versa).
In addition to her work on prenatal exposures, Dr. Barrett is also interested in factors that impact fertility in adulthood, particularly in women. She is involved in projects focused on how psychosocial stress and environmental chemical exposures affect reproductive hormone concentrations and pregnancy outcomes. Additional ongoing work examines possible biomarkers of the prenatal hormonal milieu that can be assessed postnatally, and their relationship to measures of adult reproductive health.
Dr. Barrett’s work is funded by the National Institutes of Health (R01HD083369; R01ES016863; UG3OD023349; UG3OD023271; P30ES001247) and the Mae Stone Goode Foundation.
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