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Environmental Factor, February 2012

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BPA researchers meet for updates and assessment

By Thaddeus Schug

NIEHS grantees and government scientists gathered Jan. 17-19 at NIEHS to update their research efforts on bisphenol A (BPA). The purpose of the meeting was to highlight new findings from the research projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and for the BPA consortium to develop a comprehensive disease-specific assessment of possible human health effects due to BPA exposure.

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., welcomed more than 60 attendees to the meeting and described the Institute’s extensive support for BPA research.

“NIEHS has invested heavily in research related to BPA and other endocrine disrupting chemicals,” Birnbaum said. “Recently, NIEHS awarded ten BPA Grand Opportunity and three Challenge grants, and altogether we funded 39 projects studying the health effects and risks associated with BPA exposure.

The consortium, as it now exists, has mobilized the three research divisions at NIEHS/NTP, engaged the interagency predictive toxicology partnership Tox21, and is currently supporting advanced animal and human clinical research.

Taking aim at endocrine disruption

BPA is a chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics have many applications, including use in some food and drink packaging, water and baby bottles, and other products. Epoxy resins are used to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. BPA can also be found in certain thermal paper products, including some cash register and ATM receipts.

Humans are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaches from these products. Some animal studies have shown a link between BPA exposure and a variety of physiological problems, such as infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and mammary gland cancer, and diabetes.

An integrated research initiative

Along with updates on BPA biomonitoring studies and the new NIEHS/NTP/U.S. Food and Drug Administration consortium, the meeting was organized into research groups, with presentations and review updates from their respective areas, as part of the coordinated effort to advance BPA research.

  • Pharmacokinetics Group Research Update, by Wade Welshons, Ph.D., and Frederick vom Saal, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri
  • Immunity Group Research Update, by Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester, and Robin Whyatt, Dr.P.H., of Columbia University
  • Cancer Group Research Update, by Ruth Keri, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University
  • Reproduction Group Review Update, by Shelly Ehrlich, M.D., of Harvard University; Jodi Flaws, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois; William Ricke, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin; and Retha Newbold of NIEHS
  • Neurobehavior Group Review Update, by Joseph Braun, Ph.D., of Harvard University, and Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University
  • Low Dose Group Research Update, by Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., of Tufts University
  • Metabolism, Diabetes and Obesity Group Update, by Kim Harley, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley; and Richard Stahlhut, M.D., and Bernard Weiss, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester

Looking ahead

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., the meeting organizer and health scientist administrator who oversees many of the NIEHS BPA grants  said, “This meeting showcased some of the outstanding scientific progress we have made in BPA research, due to the collaborative efforts of the ARRA grantees and other BPA researchers.” In addition to presentations during the 2 1/2 day grantee portion of the meeting, there was a public minisymposium held on the afternoon of the final day (see text box).

The meeting marked the end of ARRA support for BPA research, but work remains for members of the consortium. “Even though the official ARRA funding period has ended, there is a great deal of data forthcoming, and this consortium of scientists plans to organize the findings in a series of comprehensive reviews later this year,” Heindel observed. “We hope that this organized effort will help solve some of the issues regarding the health and safety implications of BPA exposure.”

(Thaddeus Schug, Ph.D., is a health scientist in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor. Prior to joining DERT in 2011, he was a postdoctoral research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction.)

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., sitting in the audience

Heindel pondered the update on pharmacokinetics. Seated behind him, right, is his colleague Newbold, a fellow veteran specialist in endocrine disruption research at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gail Prins, Ph.D., seated in the audience, speaking into the microphone

Grantee Gail Prins, Ph.D., center, joined in the discussion of biomonitoring studies. Prins, who studies BPA’s effects on prostate cancer, was honored for her NIEHS-funded work by the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches and conducts research. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ken Korach, Ph.D., standing, speaking from the audience

NIEHS lead researcher Ken Korach, Ph.D., standing, was one of several representatives at the meeting from the Institute’s Division of Intramural Research. Korach is chief of the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Birnbaum, like Heindel and others at the meeting, has ridden the growing wave of BPA research since the Chapel Hill meeting in 2006 and the consensus statement published the following year. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gwen Collman, Ph.D. and John Bucher, Ph.D., seated, listening to the discussion

Two of the major players in the consortium were on hand for the discussion — Gwen Collman, Ph.D., left, director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, and John Bucher, Ph.D., associate director of NTP and director of the NIEHS Division of the National Toxicology Program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Emilie Rissman, Ph.D., at the podium, pointing to her data

Rissman pointed to data from her studies projected on the screen behind her. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

BPA minisymposium

With their planning and consensus-building behind them, attendees joined others from NIEHS and NTP Jan. 19 for an afternoon of science talks.

• Introduction and Overview, by Birnbaum, who surveyed the substantial investment by NIEHS/NTP in understanding how BPA and endocrine disruption impact human health. Birnbaum, along with Heindel and several others at the meeting, was part of the historic state of the science meeting held in Chapel Hill, N.C., Nov. 28-30, 2006 (see story( ) that sparked a virtual explosion of research and public health discourse on BPA.

• Developmental Exposure to BPA Affects Multiple Organ Systems, by Catherine VandeVoort, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis. VandeVoort reported on findings of significant changes in reproductive tract, mammary gland, lung, heart, nervous system, and brain with BPA exposures. Her group’s research is shedding light on the issue of cross-species extrapolation in terms of similarity and species-specific outcomes.

• BPA and Children’s Growth and Neurodevelopment: Results from the CHAMACOS Cohort Study, by Harley, who reported on her group’s findings in the longitudinal birth cohort study of children of 601 pregnant women in the Salinas Valley, Calif. area. Her group is looking for associations between BPA and a broad range of data, including questionnaire responses, physical exams, biological samples, teacher reports, and intelligence test results.

• Developmental Exposure to BPA, Social Behavior and Gene Expression Across Generations, by Emilie Rissman, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia. Funded by Autism Speaks, Rissman is using a mouse model to study the transgenerational effects of BPA on epigenetic changes that shape behavior. Rissman is testing a range of behaviors and looking at effects on brain morphology and biomarkers associated with patterns of BPA exposure and nurturing.

• In Vivo and in Vitro Cardiovascular Effects of BPA, by Hong-Sheng Wang, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati. Wang, who began by reminding his audience that the leading cause of death in women is cardiovascular disease, reported results of his studies in a rat model, where he found associations between BPA exposure and factors that trigger or intensify cardiac events in women, such as arrhythmogenic spontaneous excitation and calcium cycling abnormalities.

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