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Extramural Update

January 2009

Endocrine Discruptor

Endocrine Disruptor Research: It's Not Just Toxicology

The scientific statement "Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement," which was announced at a news conference June 10 by Robert M. Carey, M.D., president of The Endocrine Society, and published in the journal Endocrine Reviews, marks an important step forward for research on endocrine disruption. The article reviews the data on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and human health and identifies research needs and data gaps. This statement (  Download Adobe ReaderExit NIEHS was developed because of the society's belief that there is concern for human health from exposures to EDCs (see related story ( ).

EDCs are exogenous substances that act like hormones in the endocrine system, disrupting the physiological function of endogenous hormones. EDCs encompass a variety of chemical classes such as pesticides and plant constituents, as well as compounds used in plastics and many consumer products.

EDC research evolved from the integration of researchers from many scientific disciplines — such as human reproductive biology, wildlife/comparative endocrinology and ecotoxicology, and rodent toxicology — brought together at meetings sponsored by either private funding or by the NIEHS. These forums included the Wingspread meetings organized by the World Wildlife Fund and Estrogens in the Environment I, II and III sponsored by NIEHS.

After the book Our Stolen Future( Exit NIEHS was published in 1995 and the National Academy of Sciences issued its 1999 report, Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment( Exit NIEHS, a groundswell of activity began with major symposia held by such organizations as The Society of Toxicology (SOT), the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

The NIEHS developed three initiatives and held numerous workshops and meetings over the next decade, to focus attention on this emerging field. Today the NIEHS continues to be the major source of funding of EDC research.

Recently, societies focused on endocrinology and reproductive biology have highlighted EDC research at their national meetings:

  • The American Thyroid Association (ATA) held a session on the role of environmental chemicals in altered thyroid function at its Research Summit earlier this year.
  • The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and the Society for the Study of Reproduction organized special interest groups to develop a focus on environmental exposures at their national meetings.
  • At the ASRM national meeting in 2008, a review article, "Female reproductive disorders: The role of endocrine disrupting compounds and developmental timing," and the "Proceedings of the Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility: Executive Summary" were included as special contributions to the ASRM journal, Fertility and Sterility. These articles explored the role of EDCs in female reproductive diseases and identified research needs and data gaps.

In 2005, the Endocrine Society hosted the first EDC forum and published the proceedings in Endocrinology. Since that time the Endocrine Society has hosted keynote speakers, along with oral and poster sessions on EDCs. In 2007, the European Obesity Society cosponsored a day-long workshop on "Endocrine Disruption from the Environment and the Aeteology of Obesity and Diabetes." This year the Endocrine Society featured "The 2nd Endocrine Society Forum on Endocrine Disruptors: Best Science for Risk Management and Policy." This forum was cosponsored by the ATA, the Society for the Study of Reproduction and the SOT.

EDC research is not just toxicology anymore. NIEHS is pleased to see the increased concern by clinical, reproductive and endocrine societies about the possible adverse effects of EDCs on human disease. This concern creates a win-win situation that brings scientists with new backgrounds and new approaches to the field.

Contact: Jerrold Heindel, Ph.D. |

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