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Emily S Barrett , Ph.D.

Associate Professor Rutgers University- School of Public HealthEOHSI – Environmental and Population Health Bio-Sciences
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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.

Research Areas

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.

Research Highlights

  • Assessment of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during pregnancy in relation to reproductive and neurodevelopment in childhood
  • Examination of maternal stress in relation to sex differences in the offspring
  • Investigation of novel biomarkers of the prenatal hormonal milieu in humans
  • Exploration of placental morphology and function in relation to prenatal exposures and postnatal outcomes
  • Identification of factors contributing to reproductive health and ovarian function in fertile and infertile women

Scholarly Activities

  • Editorial Board: Hormones and Behavior, Fertility and Sterility (Top 3 reviewer, 2015-2016)
  • Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) Scholar (NIH K12; 2011-2014)
  • Environmental Health News Science Communications Fellow (2009-2010)
  • Community Advisory Board, URMC Environmental Health Sciences Center (2009-2016)
  • Board of Directors, Healthy Baby Network (2015-2016)

Recent Publications

  1. Barrett, ES, Sullivan, A, Workman, T, Zhang, Y, Loftus, CT, Szpiro, AA, Paquette, A, MacDonald, JW, Coccia, M, Smith, R et al.. Sex-specific associations between placental corticotropin releasing hormone and problem behaviors in childhood. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2024;163 :106994. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2024.106994. PubMed PMID:38387218
  2. Day, DB, LeWinn, KZ, Karr, CJ, Loftus, CT, Carroll, KN, Bush, NR, Zhao, Q, Barrett, ES, Swan, SH, Nguyen, RHN et al.. Subpopulations of children with multiple chronic health outcomes in relation to chemical exposures in the ECHO-PATHWAYS consortium. Environ Int. 2024;185 :108486. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2024.108486. PubMed PMID:38367551
  3. Trasande, L, Nelson, ME, Alshawabkeh, A, Barrett, ES, Buckley, JP, Dabelea, D, Dunlop, AL, Herbstman, JB, Meeker, JD, Naidu, M et al.. Prenatal phthalate exposure and adverse birth outcomes in the USA: a prospective analysis of births and estimates of attributable burden and costs. Lancet Planet Health. 2024;8 (2):e74-e85. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(23)00270-X. PubMed PMID:38331533
  4. Oh, J, Buckley, JP, Li, X, Gachigi, KK, Kannan, K, Lyu, W, Ames, JL, Barrett, ES, Bastain, TM, Breton, CV et al.. Associations of Organophosphate Ester Flame Retardant Exposures during Pregnancy with Gestational Duration and Fetal Growth: The Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program. Environ Health Perspect. 2024;132 (1):17004. doi: 10.1289/EHP13182. PubMed PMID:38262621 PubMed Central PMC10805613
  5. Barrett, ES, Day, DB, Szpiro, A, Peng, J, Loftus, CT, Ziausyte, U, Kannan, K, Trasande, L, Zhao, Q, Nguyen, RHN et al.. Prenatal exposures to phthalates and life events stressors in relation to child behavior at age 4-6: A combined cohort analysis. Environ Int. 2024;183 :108425. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2024.108425. PubMed PMID:38199129 PubMed Central PMC10863744
  6. Baker, BH, Melough, MM, Paquette, AG, Barrett, ES, Day, DB, Kannan, K, Hn Nguyen, R, Bush, NR, LeWinn, KZ, Carroll, KN et al.. Ultra-processed and fast food consumption, exposure to phthalates during pregnancy, and socioeconomic disparities in phthalate exposures. Environ Int. 2024;183 :108427. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2024.108427. PubMed PMID:38194756 PubMed Central PMC10834835
  7. Trasande, L, Nelson, ME, Alshawabkeh, A, Barrett, ES, Buckley, JP, Dabelea, D, Dunlop, AL, Herbstman, JB, Meeker, JD, Naidu, M et al.. Prenatal Phenol and Paraben Exposures and Adverse Birth Outcomes: A Prospective Analysis of U.S. Births. Environ Int. 2024;183 :108378. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.108378. PubMed PMID:38181479
  8. Adgent, MA, Buth, E, Noroña-Zhou, A, Szpiro, AA, Loftus, CT, Moore, PE, Wright, RJ, Barrett, ES, LeWinn, KZ, Zhao, Q et al.. Maternal stressful life events during pregnancy and childhood asthma and wheeze. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2023; :. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2023.12.015. PubMed PMID:38122928
  9. Welch, BM, Keil, AP, Buckley, JP, Engel, SM, James-Todd, T, Zota, AR, Alshawabkeh, AN, Barrett, ES, Bloom, MS, Bush, NR et al.. Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth: A Pooled Study of Sixteen U.S. Cohorts. Environ Health Perspect. 2023;131 (12):127015. doi: 10.1289/EHP12831. PubMed PMID:38117586 PubMed Central PMC10732302
  10. Payne, CE, Rockson, A, Ashrafi, A, McDonald, JA, Bethea, TN, Barrett, ES, Llanos, AAM. Beauty Beware: Associations between Perceptions of Harm and Safer Hair-Product-Purchasing Behaviors in a Cross-Sectional Study of Adults Affiliated with a University in the Northeast. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023;20 (23):. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20237129. PubMed PMID:38063560 PubMed Central PMC10706836
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