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Extramural Research

Formative Center for the Evaluation of Environmental Impacts on Fetal Development - Brown University

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Brown University

Center Director: Kim Boekelheide

Project 1: Liver and the Metabolic Syndrome
Can ingestion of arsenic, a natural element that may be present in drinking water and food, harm early development of the liver or lungs?

Project 2: Prostate and Endocrine Disruption
Can exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the womb lead to development of prostate cancer later in life?

Project 3: Lung, Arsenic Exposure, and Tissue Remodeling
Can a lung model be developed that can explain how arsenic causes respiratory disease?


Brown University The conditions a person experiences in the womb can have lifelong health effects. For example, being exposed to certain chemicals (e.g., endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals or EDCs) before birth can lead to diseases later in life. At this Center, researchers work to identify new biomarkers – measurable biological indicators that can be used to link environmental exposures to particular health outcomes.

Biomarkers can help researchers identify how exposure to common environmental pollutants during early development may cause disease and can help identify individuals who may be at increased risk for disease. Researchers at this Center use mouse models to identify new biomarkers for common environmental exposures. They also investigate how and why certain chemicals and toxic materials impair healthy organ function and find ways to detect and measure this damage early in development. The pollutants studied include chemicals like arsenic as well as endocrine disruptors, which can alter hormonal regulation in the body.

Researchers at this Center communicate the implications of their findings to health care practitioners, other scientists and the public to inform efforts to prevent, detect or treat environmentally induced diseases.

Exposures & Outcomes

Primary Environmental Exposures:  Arsenic, endocrine disrupting chemicals such as estradiol, bisphenol A (BPA), genistein
Primary Health Outcomes: Liver and lung development in early childhood and predisposition to prostate cancer in later life

Research Projects

Project 1: Liver and the Metabolic Syndrome
This project examines the effects of arsenic, a natural element that people can ingest through drinking water and other sources, on the development of the liver. It is based on the relationship between altered liver development and risk for metabolic syndrome (a group of factors that increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) in the offspring of those exposed to arsenic. Researchers also compare arsenic exposure to other limitations such as the impact of dietary restrictions on the liver.

Project Leader: Philip A. Gruppuso, M.D., Brown University

Project 2: Prostate and Endocrine Disruption
Recent evidence suggests that exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the womb may interfere with a person’s hormonal system and could contribute to the development of prostate cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in men in the United States. Using mouse models, researchers at this Center are looking to evaluate possible developmental origins of prostate disease in later life associated with chemicals that are known to harm the endocrine (hormone) system and in this project are also looking to discover the underlying epigenetic mechanisms that control disease onset and progress.

Project Leader: Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D., Brown University

Project 3: Lung, Arsenic Exposure, and Tissue Remodeling
Some studies have shown that exposure to arsenic in the womb can cause problems with lung development in children and lead to respiratory diseases, lung cancer and even death in both children and adults. This project is developing models to determine the mechanisms of arsenic-induced disruption of lung tissue remodeling. The models developed are expected to help explain how arsenic causes respiratory disease, including asthma and lung cancer.

Project Leader: Monique Depaepe, M.D., Brown University

Community Partners

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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