PRHE research fills gaps in our knowledge of prenatal exposures to chemicals. We focus on:
Below is a description of research projects being conducted by PRHE staff and PRHE-affiliated UCSF faculty.
PRHE has reviewed the epidmiologic literature on the potential impacts of exposure to environmental contaminants during pregnancy on adverse birth outcomes, including intrauterine growth retardation, preterm birth and birth defects. Access this article here. The second phase of this project will focus on the animal literature.
Air pollution studies in the last decade have drawn links to poor perinatal health outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm delivery and infant mortality. These studies are important for setting air quality standards that generally have not considered perinatal outcomes.
In September 2007, PRHE co-led a workshop in Mexico City that brought together leading experts on air pollution and perinatal health outcomes to review the current state of the science and study methodologies. The workshop focused on developing a research agenda for improving methods for future studies and to develop consistent, comparable approaches to assessing work to date. Read the scientific findings from the meeting.
An International Collaborative was initiated at this workshop to foster further work and to form useful conclusions about the health risks of air pollution to the developing fetus. Tracey Woodruff (UCSF) and Jennifer Parker (CDC National Center for Health Statistics), are pursuing the connection between air pollution and birth outcomes through research and this international collaboration. PRHE will soon publish findings from a study on the relationship between increased air pollution and increased risk of decreased birth weight and respiratory-related infant mortality.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in polycarbonate plastic water and food containers, shatter-proof baby bottles, and the material that lines canned foods and beverages. Bisphenol A is estrogenic and has been shown to cause genetic damage in the oocytes (eggs) of female mice and their offspring when exposed in utero. These effects can lead to miscarriages and infertility.
PRHE and Dr. Victor Fujimoto (UCSF) are collaborating with Patricia Hunt, PhD (Washington State University) to investigate effects of Bisphenol A on the development of the ovary, and specifically the early stage of meiosis in the ovarian follicle. This study aims to determine whether the adverse effects of Bisphenol A on ovarian development observed in mice are also occurring in humans.
PRHE's Chemical Exposures During Critical Periods of Fetal Development Study focuses on measuring and characterizing exposure to bisphenol A during the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, when certain aspects of fetal development are particularly vulnerable to disruption. The goals of this research project are: 1) to compare levels of bisphenol A in the blood, urine, amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood in order to establish whether the fetus is exposed to higher levels of bisphenol A; 2) to identify leading predictors of exposure to bisphenol A through the use of a questionnaire on sources of exposure; and 3) to characterize the metabolism and detoxification of bisphenol A in the adult and fetal liver.
In spite of the substantial body of toxicologic and human evidence suggesting the potential for interference with conception, few, if any, studies have addressed the impact of mercury, cadmium and lead exposure on the fertilization, implantation, and embryo survival in humans and there is almost a complete absence of these studies among IVF patients.
Dr. Victor Fujimoto (UCSF) is prospectively evaluating the association between blood levels of mercury, cadmium and lead, and fertilization, implantation and embryo survival in patients undergoing IVF treatment. This study would be conducted at a California IVF clinic serving a large population of Asian patients.
Drs. Mary Croughan and Linda Giudice (UCSF) are conducting an epidemiologic study on the relationship between endometriosis and exposure to environmental contaminants, focusing on persistent, hormonally active chemicals, including those used in the past (for example PCBs and organochorine pesticides like DDT), and those currently or recently used (for example, flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and perfluorinated chemicals, which were used in ScotchgardT and TeflonT). Biological measurements of exposure and other risk factors, such as lifestyle factors, will be used to study connections to the risk of endometriosis.
Phthalates are in numerous commercial products, including personal care, soft plastics and fragrances, leading to ubiquitous exposure in the US. Phthalate exposure in pregnant rats causes reproductive effects in male offspring. Phthalates have also been observed to increase embryo loss and fetal malformations in rodent studies, but these effects have been minimally investigated compared to effects on male development.
Dr. Paolo Rinaudo (UCSF) is conducting a study to assess the effects of mono-n-butyl ester phthalate, (the metabolite of dibutyl phthalate), on early mouse embryo development. Dr. Rinaudo is using a novel mouse model, in which the effects of exposures on the development of zygotes (such as cleavage, morula and blastocyst formation) can be evaluated in vitro.
PRHE is characterizing the types of hazardous chemical exposures pregnant women encounter through their jobs and their hobbies through the use of a brief self-administered questionnaire. The project will also produce recommendations on incorporating key questions on occupational exposures into the prenatal intake process.
In collaboration with the Collaborative for Health and the Environment (CHE) and Lou Guillette from the University of Florida, PRHE convened a group of leading scientists to assess the state of the science on environmental contaminant exposures and reproductive health in women. Health conditions of interest include: breast and reproductive tract cancers, endometriosis, fibroids, altered timing of puberty, ovarian and reproductive tract abnormalities and infertility. The state of the science review has been published in the scientific literature, and a report and a brochure on the science and on recommendations for research and policy priorities are also available.