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BPA researchers and regulators meet for update and integration

By Thaddeus Schug
October 2010

shown left to right, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., John Bucher, Ph.D., and Kristina Thayer, Ph.D.
Birnbaum, left, NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., center, and NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction Acting Director Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., were active participants in the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

left to right, Jeffrey Fisher, Ph.D., Wade Welshons, Ph.D., and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D.
Recent Heinz awardee, Frederick vom Saal, right, leads a panel discussing BPA dose measurements and pharmacokinetics. He was joined by Wade Welshons, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri-Columbia, center, and NCTR pharmacologist Jeffrey Fisher, Ph.D., left. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Researchers shared data and findings on BPA research
Researchers filled Rodbell Auditorium to share findings and listen to updates on BPA research. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., takes notes
NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) grantee, Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., takes notes during the meeting. Patisaul leads a project aimed at determining the impact of BPA exposure on brain development. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., far left, Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., standing and Retha Newbold, far right
ONES grantee, Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., far left, and NTP Staff Scientist Retha Newbold, far right, look on as Heindel leads one of the many discussion sessions. Heindel said, "We need more collaboration and integration of data between groups and across species in order to move this field along." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS grantees and government scientists gathered Sept. 21-22 at NIEHS to update their research efforts on bisphenol A (BPA). The purpose of the meeting was to share new findings and coordinate their research efforts to develop a comprehensive assessment of possible human health effects due to BPA exposure.

BPA is a chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that coat the linings of canned food and drink containers. It is also reported to be in high concentrations on certain retail receipt papers and baby bottles. Humans are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaches from these products. BPA exposure has been linked to a variety of physiological problems in animal studies such as infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and mammary gland cancer, and diabetes.

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., opened the meeting saying, "We know that many people are concerned about bisphenol A, and we want to support the best science we can to provide the answers. Clearly, there is significant evidence from animal studies showing that BPA exposure is a health concern, but there are large data gaps on the health effects of this chemical that must be addressed to fully determine its impact on human health."

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., the meeting organizer and acting branch chief at NIEHS who oversees much of the Institute's portfolio on BPA, said, "Having BPA researchers and officials from regulating agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) together encourages interactions and the development of reliable and reproducible methods that will allow us to determine the potential threat that exposure to BPA poses to public health."

Heindel added, "The goal of the meeting is for researchers - grantees and scientists from NIEHS, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and FDA - to share their current data, identify additional collaborations and data-sharing possibilities, and address areas of inadequacy and inconsistency in the data."

NIEHS has invested heavily in research related to BPA and other endocrine disrupting chemicals. In 2009, NIEHS awarded 11 BPA Grand Opportunities and Challenge grants, and currently funds a total of 35 projects studying the health effects and risks associated with BPA exposure. The NTP is also collaborating with FDA's National Center for Toxicological Research to examine long-term health outcomes resulting from developmental exposures. 

"We are excited and thankful for the willingness of NIEHS and NTP researchers to share and exchange knowledge to expand our understanding of the health risks associated with BPA exposure, said Jordi Serratosa, Ph.D., EFSA liaison officer at FDA.

During day one of the meeting, participants shared data on how BPA is absorbed, distributed, and processed in animal models and humans. Much discussion centered on new findings that indicate rodents are similar to primates in the way they metabolize and clear BPA from their bodies. "We no longer need to waste valuable resources and time on establishing the adequacy of our testing models," said Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., a longtime BPA researcher from the University of Missouri. "We can now focus our attention on determining the toxicity of this chemical."

In addition to general sessions, the meeting included breakout groups. Animal and human BPA researchers gathered to discuss their human and animal research collaborations and data needs. Epidemiologists and animal researchers studying the same disease endpoints addressed how to stimulate translation of research between groups.

"I think what this [meeting] has proven is that there is much more that we don't know than we do know about the health effects due to BPA exposure," said Jodi Flaws, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, who directed a large group discussing reproductive issues. "We need to continue to communicate and share endpoints between our animal and human studies."

The meeting ended with an update of the NTP/FDA 90 day study of BPA exposure in rodents from the FDA National Center for Toxicological Research pharmacologist Barry Delcos, Ph.D., which is nearing the midpoint of testing.

(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor. He is currently on detail as a program analyst in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

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