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Doctors win $8m grant to look at BPA effects on babies

By Jenni Spinner+

22-Aug-2013
Last updated on 23-Aug-2013 at 10:57 GMT

A government-funded research team is examining how substances used in food packaging affect the health and development of children.

A University of Illinois (UIUC) research team landed a five-year, $8 million grant to investigate the effects that exposure to chemicals used in plastics has on kids.

Part of the Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers program, it is jointly funded through the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The university’s prior research tackled the effects of bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. The grant will expand on that work to include triclosan and parabens.

Human impact

Dr. Susan Schantz, director of the center and professor of environmental toxicology in the Department of Comparative Biosciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is lead researcher. She told FoodProductionDaily previous studies indicate the substances could have a negative impact on the body.

Our team has data from animal models showing that BPA and phthalates can have negative impacts on ovarian function and can exacerbate the effects of a high fat diet on body composition and metabolic status,” she said.

Schantz told FPD food professionals and public agencies should be keenly interested in the results, because the chemicals are frequently found in food packaging.

“FDA recently banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups,” she said. “They are currently conducting their own internal studies to further assess the potential health risks from BPA exposure.”

BPA is found in food and drink containers, and linings of metal food cans. Previous studies have found BPA could contribute to obesity, birth defects and other health problems.

Phthalates also are used in plastic containers and coatings. The materials have been found to cause birth defects in animal test subjects.

Health and wellness

Schantz also said other research on animal and human subjects indicates exposure to BPA right before or after birth can have subtle effects on a baby’s brain development and cognition.

Studies assessing the potential for these chemicals to impact human health are important,” she said.

The central component of the project is called the Illinois Kids Development Study (I-Kids). The study will follow pregnant women and their babies, gauging levels of compounds in maternal urine during pregnancy and collecting data on possible sources of exposure.

Schantz said the research will examine exposure to the chemicals during the prenatal stage and around puberty, and how they affect reproductive and neural development. It will include two human studies and parallel studies on animal models.

Among the factors that Schantz said are of great interest to the team: physical and cognitive effects on infants, and whether maternal obesity might play a part in how exposure affects infants.

The road ahead

Schantz told FPD the project already is underway. While most results will be ready near the end of the five-year grant period, results from pilot studies (conducted during the Formative Center stage) will be published in the near future.

Schantz is far from alone in the endeavor. Other UIUC researchers contributing work and knowledge to various aspects of the project (including human studies, animal research, statistical analysis, etc.) include:

  • associate director Dr. Jodi Flaws, comparative biosciences professor
  • psychology professor Dr. Janice Juraska
  • assistant professor of molecular nutrition Yuan-Xiang Pan
  • comparative biosciences professor Andrea Aguiar
  • psychology professor Renee Baillargeon
  • psychology professor Daniel Hyde
  • comparative biosciences professor Jay Ko
  • human and community development professor Barbara Fiese, also director of the University of Illinois Family Resilience Center
  • director of the university’s I-STEM Education Initiative  Lizanne DeStefano
  • comparative biosciences professor Sidonie Lavergne

Michigan State professor of epidemiology and statistics Joseph Gardiner also is contributing to the work.

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