Rochester Focuses on Environment, Fertility, Family Health

New Research Explores How Chemicals Effect Reproduction

September 13, 2005

Growing evidence suggests that ubiquitous chemicals soaked up by pregnant women around the time of conception or late in pregnancy may be harming the fetus, ultimately impacting the child’s future health. To explore this question, the University of Rochester Medical Center has established a Center for Reproductive Epidemiology, which is among the first in the United States to focus on this area of research.

Shanna H. Swan, Ph.D., professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will serve as Director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology. Swan is internationally recognized for her work on links between male and female reproduction and environmental toxins. Since 1998 she has served as principal investigator for a federally funded, multi-center Study for Future Families, an investigation into the environmental causes of geographic variations in reproductive health. Her most recently published research showed that phthalates in a mother’s body during pregnancy had subtle effects on the development of the genitals of infant boys. (Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals used to soften plastics and found in many cosmetics, lotions and shampoos.)

Swan is a first-ever recipient of the Jenifer Altman Awards, created in 2005 to honor scientists whose work promotes the protection of human and ecological health, through a commitment to science in the public interest. These scientists demonstrate a deep commitment to scientific integrity and the public’s right to know, even in the face of controversy. (See http://www.jaf.org/report/JA%20awards%202005.html)

“At the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology we will continue to focus on understanding how chemicals in our bodies affect our fertility and the outcome of pregnancy,” said Swan, who joined the University of Rochester faculty in January 2005 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Science is recognizing that adult diseases often originate in the womb. Animal studies have shown that exposures at the earliest stages of life may predict future health. So it is important to conduct epidemiological studies to determine whether these common exposures also impact human development and adult health.”

Swan and colleagues are planning a long-term study of families living in the Rochester area to better understand how phthalates and other environmental exposures can impact infant development.

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Leslie Orr
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