Scientists in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch are pleased to announce Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., as the latest tenure-track researcher to join the institute. Ferguson is head of the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group, and studies how a mother’s exposure to chemicals impacts her pregnancy and the development of her child.
"We are thrilled to have Kelly join our Branch," said NIEHS Epidemiology Branch lead Dale Sandler, Ph.D. "Her work nicely complements other Epidemiology Branch research interests and asks questions that are especially relevant to the NIEHS mission."
Ferguson has a secondary appointment in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory and is eager to collaborate with other NIEHS scientists who can take what she’s finding in her human studies and look for correlations in animal models and cell lines.
Ferguson grew up in Traverse City, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As a biopsychology and cognitive science major, she was interested in getting more hands-on experience in research labs after graduation.
"After college, I worked in Boston and Chicago where I learned more about immunology and endocrinology. But I wanted to learn more about how the chemicals in the environment interfered with these normal biological systems,” Ferguson said. "That inspired me to start a master’s in public health at the University of Michigan."
During her first week in graduate school, Ferguson met with professors in the department in an attempt to find a work-study opportunity. Her meeting with John Meeker, Sc.D., changed her career trajectory and solidified her choice to become an epidemiologist.
Meeker, an epidemiologist, is a professor of environmental health science and associate dean for research at Michigan. Working with him helped Ferguson discover that she excelled at the mathematical, or analytical, side of conducting epidemiological studies. Her first project in Meeker’s group allowed her to examine inflammation and oxidative stress in the body following exposure to plastics. After completing the project, she stayed in Meeker’s lab and applied for the Ph.D. program.
Understanding chemical exposures
Ferguson studies how a mother’s exposure to chemicals found in plastics and personal care products, such as perfumes, deodorants, and shampoos, affects her pregnancy. Effects include an increased number of pregnancy complications, and changes in delivery date and fetal development, among others.
"One of the things I like about my research," Ferguson added, "is that a lot of people can easily understand what I do."
The great outdoors
When she’s not in the lab, Ferguson enjoys activities that help her strike a good work-life balance. She loves doing anything outdoors, but especially likes swimming, hiking, camping, running, and cross-country skiing.
Her adventurous spirit serves her well in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. She has enjoyed exploring new trails and parks, trying various restaurants, and learning about the culture North Carolina offers. She’s also musically inclined — she plays the violin and piano and is learning the guitar.