Environmental exposures, particularly during pregnancy, can have long-lasting and devastating health impacts and exert long-ranging effects on maternal and child health. Particularly, there is mounting concern about the contribution of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are widely used in plastics and personal care products. The potential for exposures to EDCs 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 is a growing public health concern. Thus, it is critically important to understand how exposure to EDCs affects fertility and establishment of pregnancy. Additionally, many reproductive age women consume diets high in saturated fat and experience stress in their daily lives, with recent evidence suggesting that maternal obesity and stress may be linked to impaired reproductive function.
The Environmental Impact on Reproductive Health Theme (EIRH) strives to improve 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. Through the use of genomics, epigenomics, mechanics and bioengineering tools to develop platforms to study the physiology and pathology of the reproductive system, researchers will investigate the effects of:
- Exposure to endocrine disruptors on fertility and/or premature reproductive senescence through analysis at the level of hypothalamus, pituitary, ovary, testis, and uterus
- Genomic and epigenomic alterations in the hypothalamus, pituitary, ovary, testis, uterus, placenta, and embryo caused by environmental factors on long-term health of the progeny
- Environmental factors including endocrine disruptors and high fat diet on function of the placenta, pregnancy outcome, and diseases affecting women’s reproductive health such as preeclampsia and recurrent miscarriage
- Environmental factors including endocrine disruptors and high fat diet on male fertility function and reproductive function
- Stress on fertility and pregnancy outcome
- Endocrine disruptors on endometriosis, a chronic inflammatory gynecological disorder that afflicts women
To investigate these effects, scientists will explore the molecular pathways that are affected in response to environmental exposure among reproductive organs. Since genomic plasticity in response to environmental cues is also determined by changes in gene expression mediated by epigenomic mechanisms, the genome-epigenome relationship across generations will also be uncovered. Additionally, collaborative studies will utilize bioengineering tools to direct cell clusters towards in vitro formation of complex, three-dimensional (3D) organoids to explore the impact of environmental factors on reproductive function. By leveraging combinations of resources that are unique to Illinois, EIRH will address critical gaps in knowledge about the impact of exposure to EDCs, high fat diets, and stress on pregnancy outcomes and reproductive health.