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The Guyer Scholarship Nurtures Maternal and Child Health and Development Research

On the origins of child health and well-being

Photo of Radhika Raghunathan by Mollye MillerWhen Radhika Raghunathan was 8 years old, she watched her mother struggle with postpartum complications after the birth of her sister. One year later, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As her mother recovered from both of her life-altering health issues—and cared for a new baby with help from her young daughter—Raghunathan paid close attention. The interplay she observed among medical care, social support, individual traits and the biological mechanisms underlying health piqued Raghunathan’s subsequent interest in the complexities of maternal and child well-being.

As a PhD student and the most recent recipient of the Bloomberg School’s Bernard and Jane Guyer Scholarship in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Raghunathan has the opportunity to work alongside Janet DiPietro, PhD, one of the foremost researchers in maternal and child health and development.

The scholarship is named for Professor Emeritus Bernard Guyer, MD, MPH, former chair of Population, Family and Reproductive Health (and the Department’s precursor, Maternal and Child Health). When Guyer retired in 2010, alumni, faculty and friends honored him and his wife, Jane, by establishing the Bernard and Jane Guyer Scholarship Fund. Since its inception, nine exceptional students have received the award.

As department chair, Guyer, a pediatrician, was responsible for recruiting new talent and supporting budding researchers. DiPietro, a developmental psychologist, shared Guyer’s vision for expanding Maternal and Child Health’s traditional boundaries by applying psychophysiological measurement to research questions concerning pregnant women and their children, both before and after birth, and integrating psychological, environmental and biological perspectives.

Radhika Raghunathan, Bernard Guyer, Janet DiPietro photo by Mollye Miller

Left to right: Radhika Raghunathan, Bernard Guyer, Janet DiPietro 

DiPietro and Guyer both embraced a “life course” approach to human health and development, which takes into account how events in early life have consequences for later periods. Their complementary expertise as pediatrician and developmental psychologist contributed different perspectives to this complicated question. Guyer had an existing record of applying epidemiology and policy analysis to identify strategies for reducing infant mortality and childhood injury while promoting healthy growth and development. His work was aided by his understanding of the complex interaction among etiology, systems of care and the broader social context.

DiPietro, now vice dean for Research and Faculty at the Bloomberg School, turned her lens towards the prenatal period in an effort to better understand the origins of normal human development. Her long-standing Johns Hopkins Fetal Neurodevelopment Project was initiated in 1990 and has generated the most comprehensive database of maternal and fetal development to date. This approach allows exploration of how prenatal adverse exposures affect development and has included longitudinal studies of participants from the fetal period through early adolescence.

Photo of Radhika Raghunathan and Bernard Guyer by Mollye MillerAs a masters student, Raghunathan worked on some of these follow-up studies of young children examining biological and social influences on child outcomes. Now, as a doctoral student and with support of the Guyer Scholarship, Raghunathan has the opportunity to build on that interest by following children from several fetal cohorts—now in middle school—to study the development of a child’s ability to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors.

Three things stood out to Raghunathan upon understanding more about the difficult time her family endured: how it took a team of caregivers, from physicians and nurses to mental health clinicians, to provide comprehensive care; the importance of family and social support; and her mother’s remarkable strength and resilience.

With funding from the Guyer Scholarship, Raghunathan hopes to explore the multiple determinants of child and family well-being and continue to push the boundaries of innovation in the field of maternal and child health.

Photos and story by Mollye Miller Shehadeh

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