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New IGB Research Theme Aims To Improve Reproductive Health

BY Alisa King

Environmental exposures, particularly during pregnancy, can have long-lasting and devastating health impacts and exert long-ranging effects on maternal and child health. Particularly, exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) — widely used in plastics and personal care products — have the potential to increase the prevalence of infertility and/or premature reproductive senescence in men and women, and reproductive disorders such as recurrent miscarriage, preeclampsia, and endometriosis in women. As a growing health concern, it is critically important to understand how exposure to EDCs affects fertility and establishment of pregnancy.

The newly formed Environmental Impact on Reproductive Health (EIRH) theme will focus on improving reproductive health by gaining fundamental knowledge in both normal variation in reproductive function and fertility disorders/diseases and developing therapeutic tools through multi-disciplinary research collaborations across campus. The EIRH theme represents the first co-led theme, with professors of comparative biosciences Jodi Flaws and Indrani Bagchi serving as co-theme leaders.

“We noticed that several faculty across campus were conducting research in the area of reproductive health or in the area of environmental health, but not actively working together on common projects,” said Flaws and Bagchi. “Thus, we thought it would be nice to have a theme in IGB that brought together researchers in the fields of reproductive health and environmental health.”

Researchers will use genomics, epigenomics, mechanics and bioengineering tools to develop platforms to study the physiology and pathology of the reproductive system to investigate the effects of exposure to EDCs on fertility, placental function, and endometriosis. Additionally, researchers will investigate the impact of stress and high fat diets on fertility and pregnancy outcomes since recent evidence suggests that maternal obesity and stress may be linked to impaired reproductive function.

Along with research endeavors, EIRH theme members will participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience in Toxicology (SURE Tox) and Grainger College of Engineering Illinois Scholars Undergraduate Research (ISUR) programs at Illinois. Both programs are designed to provide undergraduate students with high-quality research experiences in the fields of toxicology and environmental health.

“We thought it would be great to bring basic scientists and bioengineers together to work on important research questions in the field,” said Flaws and Bagchi. “If we can better understand how the environment impacts reproductive health, we can develop methods to prevent or treat reproductive diseases that are caused by environmental exposures.”

Environmental Impact on Reproductive Health research theme membership:
Jodi Flaws (Co-Theme Lead and Department of Comparative Biosciences) (MME)
Indrani Bagchi (Co-Theme Lead and Department of Comparative Biosciences)
Milan Bagchi (Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology)
Kathryn Clancy (Department of Anthropology)
Brendan Harley (Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) (RBTE leader)
Amy Wagoner Johnson (Department of Mechanical Sciences & Engineering) (RBTE)
CheMyong (Jay) Ko (Department of Comparative Biosciences) (MME)
Hyunjoon Kong (Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) (M-CELS leader/RBTE)
Rosa Espinosa-Marzal (Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering)
David Miller (Department of Animal Science)
Romana Nowak (Department of Animal Science)
Lori Raetzman (Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology) (GNDP)
Prabhakara Reddi (Department of Comparative Biosciences)
Jing Yang (Department of Comparative Biosciences)


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