Recently featured as an NIEHS Success Story, NIEHS grantee Martha Susiarjo, Ph.D., studies how exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may negatively affect the health of a pregnant mother and her baby. EDCs are chemicals that can interfere with how hormones in the body communicate. Bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, and other contaminants that may act as EDCs are found in everyday consumer products, such as plastic bottles, metal food cans, and household furniture.
As a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, Susiarjo performed genetics research to determine the effects of BPA on oocyte development in mice. This research was conducted under the mentorship of Patricia Hunt, Ph.D., a geneticist who discovered chromosomal abnormalities in the offspring of pregnant mice inadvertently exposed to BPA from damaged caging materials.
After successful completion of her doctoral research in 2007, Susiarjo went on to receive postdoctoral training under the direction of Marisa Bartolomei, Ph.D., an epigenetics researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, Susiarjo received an NIEHS postdoctoral training grant to study the impact of BPA exposure on the mouse epigenome.
"These experiences helped me get where I am today," Susiarjo said. "I was very fortunate to have mentors who saw great potential in me and pushed me to do more."
Susiarjo now leads research in her own laboratory at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Her lab uses mice as a model organism to explore the molecular mechanisms that regulate the effects of EDCs on maternal health and fetal development during pregnancy. Her research shows that epigenetics, or heritable changes that affect gene expression without changing the genetic sequence in DNA, can play a large role in these effects.