Environmental Factor, May 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Thayer presents NTP obesity workshop findings to local communicators
By Robin Mackar
In their editorial, Thayer and co-author NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., wrote that they envision OHAT becoming the NTP focal point for the thoughtful and deliberative integration of relevant information of all types in health assessments for the protection of public health. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
NIEHS Employee Services Support Specialist Dick Sloane was very pleased to make it over to the lunchtime talk at Sigma Xi, saying it gave him a broad overview of an important public health topic that he can share with his students at Durham Tech. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
On hand for Thayer's talk were lecture host Associate Editor Cathy Clabby, right, and Senior Editor Fenella Saunders of American Scientist magazine, which hosts the series of lunchtime talks. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., director of the newly named Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT) in the National Toxicology Program (NTP), showcased the breadth of some of the expanded research activities her office is engaged in during an April 19 lunchtime talk at Sigma Xi headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
When the organizer of the local monthly lecture series was looking for a compelling speaker who could talk about the growing body of evidence linking chemicals and diseases to a group of local freelance writers and science communicators, Thayer seemed the natural choice.
Thayer was soon issued an invitation by the scientific research society to present findings from a workshop hosted Jan. 11-13 by the NTP, titled "Role of Environmental Chemicals in the Development of Diabetes and Obesity." (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2011/february/science-ntp-workshop/)
Thayer began her talk by sharing the rationale for why the NTP sponsored the workshop earlier this year, including the fact that although 70 percent of type 2 diabetes is attributed to being overweight, 30 percent is caused by other factors, which may be environmental. She then shared some of the data that was critically reviewed by the 130 experts who gathered at the January meeting that lead them to conclude that there was plausibility for what is often referred to as the "obesogen" hypothesis.
"Although caloric intake and lack of exercise are still recognized as the predominant contributors to diabetes and obesity, the workshop identified that chemicals in our environment also play a role," Thayer said. Maternal smoking with increased risk of offspring being overweight or obese later in life was one of the strongest associations that was found.
During her talk, Thayer also alluded to the fact that the workshop was the first example of how the NTP Center for Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) (http://cerhr.niehs.nih.gov/) was broadening its scope. The NTP CERHR, known for its national role in carefully sifting through hundreds of studies to determine if a particular substance, such as bispehnol A, is harmful to development or reproduction, was now beginning to expand its reach to look at other endpoints. CERHR has been renamed OHAT to address a broader range of health effects (see editorial (http://ehponline.org/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.1103645) in the May issue of Environmental Health Perspectives).
Under Thayer's leadership, OHAT will become a scientific analysis program within the NTP that conducts health assessments on a wide variety of emerging health topics. For example, one of the topics OHAT expects to home in on in the coming year is the potential developmental effects of cancer chemotherapy during pregnancy.
Thayer entertained questions at the end of the talk and was able to point out how the workshop has already helped the NTP and NIEHS establish new research directions. Several new funding announcements out of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, including "Role of Environmental Chemical Exposures in the Development of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome" (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-11-170.html) and "Dietary Influence on the Human Health Effects of Environmental Exposures," (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-ES-11-002.html) demonstrate NIEHS commitment to this important area.
(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)