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Environmental Factor, March 2013

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Translating women’s environmental reproductive health research into practice

By Ashley Godfrey

Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D.

With its focus on women and reproductive health, it’s not surprising that the consortium includes several NIEHS women scientists as members, such as NTP pathologist Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., right. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Michael Diamond, M.D.

Michael Diamond, M.D., representing the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, took notes during the presentations. Diamond was one of the many clinical representatives in attendance. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Barbara Cohn, Ph.D.

Barbara Cohn, Ph.D., director of the Child Health and Development Studies, commented on Hauser’s keynote address. Cohn later presented her group’s work on pregnancy as a maternal sensitive window for environmental exposure, using a large study of women encompassing three generations. Cohn called the data set a gold mine and offered it as a resource to the group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D.

University of Cincinnati researcher Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., described her group’s work on how a high-fat diet and BPA exposure during pregnancy affects the mother’s reproductive health in a mouse model. The preliminary results are interesting and show an increase in the number of nonpregnant females that persist even after diet and exposure are changed. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS was host to leading scientists and physicians for the 2nd annual meeting Jan. 30 of the Women’s Environmental Reproductive Health Consortium. The all-day event showcased the consortium’s goal of advancing research and facilitating collaboration, to move the field of women’s environmental health forward.

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., program administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), and Karin Russ, national coordinator of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) Fertility and Reproductive Health working group, co-hosted the meeting, with Russ serving as the main organizer and meeting facilitator.

Heindel opened the day by describing the meeting goals, which ranged from updates on the science to insights into how to translate research into real world applications. He explained that the consortium is a joint effort between DERT and CHE, and the meeting was a good opportunity for everyone involved to see who is doing what and share both ideas and resources. “This is only the second time we are meeting and already we are expanding,” Heindel said (see story).

Along with a number of NIEHS grantees and in-house scientists in attendance, Russ was pleased to introduce several leaders from clinical reproductive health professional organizations and groups working on translation of science into practice (see text box). “The goal was for researchers to meet the end users of their data and open up discussions on moving research findings from bench to bedside,” she explained.

To that end, Jeanne Conry, M.D., Ph.D., president-elect of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, spoke about integrating environmental health concepts into preconception and prenatal care. Laura Anderko, Ph.D., discussed a project in biomonitoring of methylmercury and risk reduction counseling. Mark Miller, M.D., of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), was on hand to talk about Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSU), an environmental health science resource for clinicians.

Paradigm-changing research

The agenda was tightly scheduled, with 20 presenters on the program. The focus of many of the talks was cutting-edge research, as well as viewing pregnancy as a sensitive window of exposure for the mother, as well as the fetus. Many of the researchers shared exciting results using new techniques, along with novel approaches to answering the difficult question of translating research into clinical practice.

The morning began with a keynote address by NIEHS grantee Russ Hauser, M.D., Sc.D., of Harvard University, who described his team’s exciting research using artificial reproductive technology (ART) to study the impact of environmental chemicals on very early human development. Hauser explained that traditional epidemiologic studies are limited by what they can study and are missing some of the most sensitive time windows for exposure. “Preconception is important,” stated Hauser, who went on to show some early results relating BPA concentrations in the mother to embryo implantation failure among closely monitored patients receiving ART.

The afternoon’s keynote address featured Tulane University researcher John McLachlan, Ph.D., who summarized some of the emerging trends covered during the day. He stressed that DES remains a model estrogen exposure, and that lessons learned can be applied to other exposures and other systems. McLachlan emphasized that researchers need to look outside of their field and study all of the possible effects, in order to make research more integrated and translatable.

Looking to the future

Russ led a discussion in the afternoon focused on translation and outreach. “How can NIEHS scientists communicate with clinicians?” she asked, stimulating a discussion of what each profession values in terms of women’s reproductive environmental health. Russ also pointed out a number of professional conferences that would be great opportunities for the consortium members to communicate their research to a broader audience.

Russ encouraged participants to think about symposium and speaker suggestions for future meetings. Following the meeting, she said, “I’ve gotten really positive feedback from both researchers and clinical people.” Russ hopes to organize next year’s meeting at a professional conference where top researchers are already gathered.

(Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis)

Cheryl Walker, Ph.D.

Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., explained how an exposure ultimately leads to changes in the proteins that read, write, and erase the epigenetic code. When asked how this translated to other chemicals not classified as classic endocrine disruptors, Walker responded by stating, “If we were still in the 25 percentile world [a higher level of government funding for biomedical research], we would all be able to ask these questions.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Suzanne Fenton, Ph.D.

NTP lead researcher Suzanne Fenton, Ph.D., presented later in the afternoon, describing a study by her group that is about to begin. Fenton will be using rats to try to identify a metabolic fingerprint for in utero DES exposure that can then be used to identify exposure in women. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

McLachlan and Newbold

McLachlan, right, and retired NIEHS researcher Retha Newbold discussed some of the key issues during one of the breaks. They have known each other since McLachlan’s tenure as scientific director at NIEHS more than two decades ago. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Russ with Heindel

Russ, with Heindel seated in front, led the afternoon discussion focused on translating research into clinical use and increasing education. Russ also thought the open communication between clinicians and researchers was very productive. “The consortium has grown from about 40 people to 70, just in one year,” explained Russ, who encourages anyone interested to email her. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Kenneth Korach, Ph.D.

NIEHS lead researcher Ken Korach, Ph.D., chief of the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology, was on hand to listen to the short research presentations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Members of the consortium

Members of the consortium listened and took notes during the presentations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Clinical professional attendees

  • Laura Anderko, Ph.D. — Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies
  • Martha Berger — Acting director of Program Implementation and Coordination in the Office of Children's Health Protection at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Susan Buchanan, M.D. — Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and Consortium for Reproductive Environmental Health in Minority Communities
  • Jeanne Conry, M.D., Ph.D. — President-elect of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and assistant physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center
  • Michael Diamond, M.D. — Wayne State University assistant dean for Clinical and Translational Research, representing the American Society for Reproductive Medicine
  • Michael Hatcher, Dr.P.H. — Chief of the Environmental Medicine and Education Services Branch at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • Gay Johnson — Chief executive officer of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health
  • Mark Miller, M.D. — Director of the UCSF Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit
  • Anjana Solaiman, R.N.C. — Clinical instructor at The Universities at Shady Grove School of Nursing, representing the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses
  • Marya Zlatnik, M.D. — Associate program director of the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellowship Program at UCSF, representing the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine

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