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Release Date: 02/06/2015

Barry M. Lester, PhD, professor and founding director of the Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the Center for Children and Families at Women & Infants Hospital, was recently interviewed by International Innovation to discuss his contribution to the study of epigenetics and child development. Epigenetics is the study of factors that change how the genetic code is carried out, what the genes do without changing the genes themselves. Dr. Lester and his team believe that "the way in which a child develops in the womb and during the early years of life is predicated not only by genes and the health of the mother, but also by the mother's lifestyle and their family environment," due to epigenetics.

Dr. Lester, along with James F. Padbury, MD, chief of pediatrics at Women & Infants and the Oh–Zopfi Professor of Pediatrics and Perinatal Research at Brown University, and epigeneticist, Carmen Marsit, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University, have been working together researching epigenetic and environmental factors that lead to the development of many mental health disorders in children.

"We know little about the specific mechanisms by which a child's behavioral development is derailed," said Dr. Lester. "We know the what, but we don't know very much about the how and the why, and that is where epigenetics comes in."

Much of the excitement around epigenetics is that epigenetic changes are not permanent and could usher in a whole new era of treatment and intervention. Dr. Lester believes the research is well thought out for future development; however it will take a lot of resources to get to the desired result.

"With sufficient resources, I think it would take about 10 years to make the kinds of advances in epigenetics that would enable us to begin improving the quality of life of our children," expressed Dr. Lester. "Epigenetics not only enables us to understand behavior at the molecular and cellular level, it also enables us to use that knowledge to develop treatments for children with behavioral or mental health problems as well as programs for pregnant women and infants to prevent the development of later behavioral or mental health problems."

About International Innovation
International Innovation publishes global insight and analysis on current scientific research and trends, as well as funding policy issues. Coverage spans the breadth of scientific disciplines, with key focus on the interdisciplinary areas of health care, environment and technology. The digital magazine also provides extensive analysis of trends at a regional level, with specialist reviews of research emanating from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

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About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns. A major teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the 9th largest stand-alone obstetrical service in the country and the largest in New England with approximately 8,500 deliveries per year. A Designated Baby-Friendly® USA hospital, U.S.News & World Report 2014-15 Best Children’s Hospital in Neonatology and a 2014 Leapfrog Top Hospital, in 2009 Women & Infants opened what was at the time the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. It is home to the nation’s first mother-baby perinatal psychiatric partial hospital, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiography; a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Pelvic Floor Disorders Network.
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