The Child Health and Development Studies began in 1959 as a collaborative effort between the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, and the Kaiser Permenente Medical Group with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Jacob Yerushalmy, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of California, Berkeley, directed the studies under the collaboration. His skillful leadership, scientific initiative, and creativity helped to establish this rich database of information on human reproduction and child development. He directed the CHDS until his death in 1972.
In 1973, Dr. Bea J. van den Berg became director of the CHDS. During her tenure, Dr. van den Berg greatly enhanced and protected the CHDS resources. She arranged to transfer the archived serum samples to the National Cancer Institute for long-term storage and protection and was able to obtain several grants to support new studies with the CHDS cohort. With funding provided by both the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Dr. van den Berg initiated a follow-up study with CHDS children during their adolescent years.
As the CHDS children became adults, Dr. van den Berg initiated several then groundbreaking studies of early life determinants of adult health. Some highlights of this research include a scientific collaboration with Drs. J. Richard Udry and Pamela Schwingl to investigate prenatal determinants of female reproductive health and behavior. This study was the basis of current research on the relation between prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals and female fertility. Another collaboration with Drs. Ezra Susser and Catherine Schaefer led to a landmark study of prenatal determinants of schizophrenia. This study is ongoing and providing new insights about the causes of this disease.
Dr. van den Berg's complete devotion to the scientific integrity of CHDS data is the primary reason why the CHDS remains a viable and important resource to answer important questions about the prevention of disease at each phase of the life-cycle.
Dr. Barbara A. Cohn began serving as co-director with Dr. van den Berg beginning in 1996 and became the sole director of the CHDS in 2001. Since becoming director, Dr. Cohn has demonstrated the continuing value of CHDS data for answering important, contemporary research questions by receiving continued support from the National Institutes of Health and several other grantees dedicated to identify determinants of adult health and prevention of chronic diseases. The continued importance of CHDS data is also evident by the success of the initiative Dr. Cohn developed to support outside investigators wishing to use CHDS data. Publications based on this effort by CHDS investigators and collaborators have appeared in numerous health and medical journals.
Dr. Cohn has identified two priority areas where CHDS data has been and will be particularly valuable: breast cancer and research on human reproduction. Several current studies are examining early life determinants of these health outcomes by combining old data with new follow-up studies.
The valuable data that has been generated throughout the history of the CHDS with the help of CHDS families and scientists led to an abundance of important scientific findings.