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BWH researchers are putting the old saying “it runs in the family” to the test with a new cohort study that will follow families throughout generations. Through the Family Cohort Study, researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the genetic, environmental and biological factors that contribute to both health and disease.
Although the study hasn’t yet launched, the news generated great audience interest when it was introduced at the annual Women’s Health Luncheon on April 24 hosted by The Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and the Women’s Health Leadership Council at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
The luncheon, “Predicting Our Health: The Power of Generational Research,” was chaired by award-winning television journalist Liz Walker.
“The event was an opportunity for people to learn about how the future health of their families and others may one day benefit from the work being planned today at BWH,” said Paula Johnson, MD, MPH, chief of the Division of Women’s Health and executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology.
Johnson led a panel discussion featuring Janet Rich-Edwards, ScD, director of Developmental Epidemiology in the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, and Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author of “Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”
The panelists shared how past groundbreaking studies, such as The National Collaborative Perinatal Project and the Nurses’ Health Studies, brought insights on health, such as the causes of cerebral palsy. Many of these study findings have become household guidelines, such as avoiding high-mercury fish consumption during pregnancy.
Rich-Edwards emphasized how the Family Cohort Study will not only continue in the legacy of its predecessors, but also extend its reach to study more diverse populations, as well as utilize state-of-the-art research technologies.
Vulnerability to chronic diseases that appear in adulthood can be seen much earlier, even while a fetus is still in the womb. Therefore, the investigators plan on collecting information during all stages of life. Drawing from the 8,000 births a year at BWH, researchers will follow mothers from pregnancy and beyond, along with their husbands, partners and children.
Connors Center investigators believe that information gathered during gestation and early development from these families will provide the basis for developing innovative treatments for both women and men.
“This would create a powerful resource for discovery of health and disease that will allow us to develop sex-specific treatments and ultimately prevention strategies,” said Goldstein. “We are primed at the Brigham for discovery not only within the next five to seven years, but also for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in the generations to come.”