Janet Hardy, professor emerita of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and an eminent pediatric epidemiologist whose pioneering work spanning six decades continues to influence modern-day neonatology and fetal medicine, died Oct. 23 at the age of 92 in Glen Arm, Md.
“Janet Hardy was the pioneer in linking maternal age, nutrition and health with fetal development and early child development,” said George Dover, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and director of the Department of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Her determination and tenacity yielded research findings that have benefited generations of healthier newborns, children and adults.”
Hardy’s groundbreaking research was the result of her foresight and courage to ponder questions others at the time might have deemed inconsequential. For example, she looked at the interplay of seemingly unrelated variables, such as maternal age and a child’s biological and social development, or the relationship between a mother’s viral infections and a child’s neuro-cognitive development in later life. In doing so, Hardy in effect married public health with medicine. When she looked at the effect of a pregnant woman’s age and subsequent socio-economic status, her research showed that childbearing after age 20 meant better outcomes for the mother.
Hardy’s methodological and research insights helped in the design of the now-classic Collaborative Perinatal Project, a federal, 12-center study, launched in 1957, that tracked a child’s development longitudinally — from before birth through second grade — over nearly 20 years, an effort that would be considered ambitious even by today’s research standards. Hardy headed the Baltimore cohort of the study.
Much of what is known today in fetal medicine, neonatology and early childhood development came out of this project, such as what drugs are unsafe during pregnancy and how devastating rubella could be for the fetus during pregnancy. The data collected during the study was so rich and so layered that it propelled Hardy to delve further and deeper, generating new findings well into the 1990s and 2000s.
“I had the privilege of working with Dr. Hardy on the follow-up of the Collaborative Perinatal Project,” said Robert Yolken, M.D., chief of Hopkins’ Division of Pediatric Neurovirology. “I was impressed by her knowledge and dedication to the program, which she oversaw more than 40 years ago. I also came to know of her kindness and her support and mentorship of young investigators. She was a true pioneer and there were not many like her, even at an institution like Hopkins.”
In the 1990s, Hardy reopened her data bank and set out to track the offspring of the original Baltimore cohort. The effort resulted in a study of the relationship between maternal age and later-life outcomes, which found that being born to a mother in her mid to late 20s was a predictor of success in later life. Hardy’s original research continues to generate insights today. For example, the authors of a 2006 research paper, using the original data collected in the 1960s and the 1970s, , reported a link between fetal growth restriction and high blood pressure by age 7.
Professionally, Hardy blossomed during the 1940s and 1950s, when society and the medical establishment frowned upon women in academia. She was one of only five women in a 150-student class when she graduated in 1941 from McGill University in Montreal. In 1942, she came to Johns Hopkins, where she developed the hospital’s first neonatology ward. Students and colleagues were not the only ones seeking out Hardy’s rare expertise. She acted as a consultant for the Maryland State Department of Health, helping to develop the state’s first transport system for premature and at-risk newborns.
During a six-year hiatus from Hopkins, Hardy first headed the maternal and child health program of the Baltimore City Health Department and went on to become assistant commissioner of health for preventive medicine. But her restless academic mind eventually brought her back to Hopkins, where in 1957 she resumed her research.
Perhaps spurred by her work on teenage pregnancy, in the late 1970s, Hardy partnered with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to design an antipregnancy intervention program for teens. The program, piloted at two Baltimore City schools, combined education with access to birth control.
“It was a privilege to work with her on the teen pregnancy prevention project,” said Laurie Zabin, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the School of Public Health, who credits Hardy for launching her career. “She was always ready to talk about new ideas, to try new methods, to go down new pathways. She was always willing to do what was needed to make her programs research-worthy and solid. That means the work remains vital today — 20 years later.”
Hardy had a voracious appetite for research and remained a prolific investigator, publishing in academic journals until just a few years before her death. Before she and her husband, Paul Hardy, moved to the Glen Meadows Retirement Community, they lived on a 35-acre farm in Glen Arm, where they raised horses and made their own jams. In addition to her husband, she is survived by their two children — David Hardy and Janet Thayer — and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. at the Glen Meadows Retirement Community.