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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA CEHCs: Novel Methods to Assess Effects of Bisphenol A & Phthalates on Child Development - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Hormones play a critical role in many processes in our bodies, particularly in the reproductive system and in brain development. Some chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, can interfere with the body’s natural hormones by blocking or altering normal hormone function resulting in long-term mental and physical health effects. 

At this center, researchers study the effects of two endocrine disruptors that are commonly used in pesticides, plastics and many other products and are also found in vehicle exhaust: bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals have the potential to impact the human developmental hormones because BPA mimics the female hormone estrogen, and phthalates can disrupt the production of male hormones such as testosterone and change the way the body responds to them. Scientists at this center examine the health risks of being exposed to these chemicals in the womb or during adolescence and aim to discover how these problems can be limited and prevented.

  • Research Projects

    Project 1: Prenatal exposure to BPA/phthalates: Infant physical and behavioral development
    Pregnant women are exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and BPA through their use of personal care products and plastics. Animal studies show that exposure to these chemicals can cause developmental problems, but it is not known whether the same effects are seen in humans. Researchers at this center follow 150 pregnant women to see whether exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy is associated with any physical or mental changes in their infants. Under this project, a woman’s everyday exposure to BPA and phthalates is measured using urine and cord blood samples, as well as product-use diaries. This study aims to develop novel methods to assess the impact of children’s exposure in the womb to BPA and/or phthalates on physical and behavioral characteristics in female and male children during the first few months of life. The goal is to identify reliable and valid cognitive tests in newborns that are potentially predictive of long-term cognitive impairment.

    Project Leader: Susan Schantz, Ph.D., University of Illinois

    Project 2: Adolescent exposure to BPA/phthalates: Cognitive and behavioral development
    Adolescence is a critical period not only for reproductive maturity and development, but for brain development and behavioral maturity, as well. However, there are few, if any, studies of exposures to BPA or phthalates and neurodevelopment health impacts in humans. This project examines how being exposed to these chemicals during adolescence may affect brain function. Using a variety of tests and measurements, researchers examine children approaching adolescence for the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in comparison to the presence of behavioral and developmental disorders. The project builds on an ongoing study of nearly 800 children who have been monitored since birth to assess the relationship of early life exposure to pesticides and metals to brain and nervous system development.

    Project Leader: Susan Korrick, M.D., Harvard Medical School

    Project 3: Mechanisms of in utero BPA exposure on fetal gonad development
    BPA has proven harmful effects on reproduction in rodents. It has been detected in serum of pregnant women, umbilical cord blood, and fetal plasma, indicating that developing fetuses are exposed to BPA. This project examines if BPA exposure in the womb harms the development and functions of the reproductive system in mice.

    Project Leader: Jodi Flaws, Ph.D., University of Illinois

    Project 4: Effects of bisphenol A on the developing cortex
    This project uses mice to examine how being exposed to BPA in the womb or during adolescence affects brain development and function.

    Project Leader: Janice M. Juraska, Ph.D., University of Illinois

  • Outcomes

    Primary Environmental Exposures: Bisphenol A (BPA), Phthalates
    Primary Health Outcomes: Hormone-mediated changes including gonadal development, prenatal & adolescent male and female brain development & behavior

  • Publications

    Publications: (2009 - 2013)
    Publications: (2001 - 2008)