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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

November 2017

Kelly Ferguson — one of 20 under 40 to watch in environmental health

NIEHS epidemiologist Kelly Ferguson is an environmental health researcher to watch, says the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.

NIEHS epidemiologist Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., is an environmental health researcher to watch, according to a Sept. 14 announcement by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE). The group launched a series of monthly webinars, each featuring two of the 20 Pioneers Under 40 in Environmental Public Health, so they can discuss their cutting-edge work.

Studying effects of maternal exposures

Kelly Ferguson Ferguson is particularly interested in how the placenta may be involved in effects of toxicants on the developing fetus, as well as on the course of the pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of The University of Michigan School of Public Health)

Ferguson joined NIEHS in early 2016 to lead the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group. She studies how a mother’s exposures during pregnancy affect both the pregnancy and the development of her baby.

In 2013, Ferguson published a study that linked exposure to certain phthalates with preterm birth. More recently, she published findings that suggested increased odds of preterm birth were linked to oxidative stress associated with phthalate exposures.

“The combination of insight and specialized training that Kelly brings to her research signals a scientist likely to play a significant role in advancing the field of environmental health,” said Darryl Zeldin, M.D., NIEHS scientific director. “We’re pleased she has this important opportunity to share her research with scientists, students, and others.”

Ferguson pairs epidemiological methods with mechanistic studies to reveal how an exposure may lead to an observed adverse birth outcome. “My long-term research goals are to better understand how combined exposures — including chemicals and psychosocial stressors — contribute to adverse reproductive outcomes,” Ferguson said. “Exposures experienced by the mother, father, and fetus may all be important.”

March 2018 webinar — preterm birth

By featuring pairs of honorees in its webinar series, CHE provides a platform to bring cutting-edge work to the public, to foster new connections and insights. The first webinar was held Oct. 4, and they will continue monthly through June 2018.

Ferguson will be featured March 1, 2018, along with NIEHS grantee Amy Padula, Ph.D., from the University of California at San Francisco. “Our discussion will likely have to do with preterm birth and exposures to environmental contaminants,” Ferguson said, pointing to their common research interest. “Amy focuses on air pollution, and my work relates to endocrine disrupting compounds, like phthalates and phenols.”

Sharing research to promote public health

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., served on a CHE committee that nominated individuals for recognition. "I believe that scientists have a responsibility to share their research as often as possible, especially when it relates to public health," Birnbaum said in a Sept. 14 CHE press release. "These young scientists are doing exciting, innovative work that will influence how we address environmental challenges to our health in the future. Their webinars promise to be both interesting and informative."

"CHE is excited to shine a light on the hard work of these 20 young pioneers in environmental health,” said CHE Director Karen Wang, Ph.D. “These individuals are shaping the future of environmental health."

Ferguson KK, Chen YH, VanderWeele TJ, McElrath TF, Meeker JD, Mukherjee B. 2017. Mediation of the relationship between maternal phthalate exposure and preterm birth by oxidative stress with repeated measurements across pregnancy. Environ Health Perspect 125(3):488−494.

Ferguson KK, Chin HB. 2017. Environmental chemicals and preterm birth: biological mechanisms and the state of the science. Curr Epidemiol Rep 4(1):56−71.

Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Pace GG, Weller D, Zeng L, Pennathur S, Cantonwine DE, Meeker JD. 2017. Urinary polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolite associations with biomarkers of inflammation, angiogenesis, and oxidative stress in pregnant women. Environ Sci Technol 51(8):4652−4660. (Summary)

Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2014. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth. JAMA Pediatr 168(1):61−68. (Summary)

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