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Chemical Exposures On Developing Children Being Investigated

Chemical Exposures On Developing Children Being Investigated By UC

May 8, 2013

University of Canterbury (UC) researchers are investigating the effects of chemical exposures on developing children including potential future health implications.

UC toxicology professor Ian Shaw says exposure to chemicals in food and from the environment can affect genes.

``The question we are seeking an answer for is what effect could such chemicals have on developing children? 

``These include direct effects of chemicals after eating food. They include the effects on the developing child in utero following its mother’s exposure and transfer to the child via the placenta. Thirdly we want to know the effects on genes in sperm and or ova following the mother and or father’s exposure prior to conception of the child.

``We are looking at whether chemicals pass from mum to her baby via the placenta and have found that many do. This is not surprising as other research has found the same. 

``Of more interest is that some of these chemicals are female hormone mimics and so could affect sexual development. The placenta prevents unwanted chemicals getting into the baby such as estrogen.

``We have shown that some estrogen mimics do cross into the baby.  In addition, we have also found many of these in amniotic fluid which is further evidence of embryo or fetal exposure,’’ Professor Shaw says.

His food safety research team is also pursuing what effects fathers’ exposure might have on their offspring. 

Professor Shaw’s team has worked with male New Zealand veterans of the Malayan emergency who were exposed to the acaricide, dibutylphthlalate (DBP). Their studies have found that their male children appear to have a higher incidence of specific genital developmental disorders.

``This is controversial. Some scientists dispute our findings. Our further and very recent work has shown that DBP changes the way steroids are metabolised which would decrease testosterone synthesis and might explain the effects seen in the veterans’ children.  We are now looking at whether DBP affects the genes that control steroid synthesis. Watch this space,’’ Professor Shaw says.

His research directly links with one of the Government’s national science challenges which include high value nutrition.

The Government says it will dedicate $133.5 million in funding that will be used for 10 projects aimed at tackling a broad range of science-based issues, including health care, food nutrition, protecting and managing biodiversity, climate change and preparing for natural disasters.

Photo: Professor Ian Shaw


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