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Your Environment. Your Health.

Brown University

Formative Center for the Evaluation of Environmental Impacts on Fetal Development

Brown University
Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.

Project Description:

Child Health Specialist: Philip Gruppuso, M.D.


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

At the Formative Center for the Evaluation of Environmental Impacts on Fetal Development, researchers are identifying measurable biological indicators, or biomarkers, that link environmental exposures to particular health effects. Biomarkers can help researchers identify how exposures to common environmental pollutants early in a child’s development can lead to disease later in life. They can also help identify people who have an increased risk for disease.

During prenatal development, humans undergo rapid change, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to disruption by environmental exposures. Center researchers study the response of human fetal tissues to various environmental chemical exposures, including arsenic and endocrine disruptors, which can alter hormonal regulation in the body. They also use mouse models to identify new biomarkers that indicate exposure to common environmental contaminants and to study how certain chemicals and materials impair organ function. They are also developing new ways to detect and measure damage early in development. The researchers communicate their findings to the scientific community and non-governmental organizations to inform efforts to prevent, detect, or treat environmentally-induced diseases.

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Project 1: Liver and metabolic syndrome

Project leader: Philip A. Gruppuso, M.D.

Arsenic is a harmful, but naturally occurring, element that people can ingest through drinking water and other sources. This project examines how altered liver development affects the risk for metabolic syndrome in the offspring of those exposed to arsenic. Metabolic syndrome is a group of factors that increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

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Project 2: Prostate and endocrine disruption

Project leader: Kim Boekelheide, M.D., Ph.D.

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. Using mouse models, this project is evaluating the association of endocrine disruptors with possible developmental origins of prostate disease that occurs later in life. This project is also looking to discover epigenetic mechanisms that control disease onset and progress. Epigenetic changes produce a different pattern of gene expression without changing the genetic code.

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Project 3: Lung, arsenic exposure, and tissue remodeling

Project leader: Monique Depaepe, M.D.

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 are expected to help explain how arsenic causes respiratory diseases, including asthma, and lung cancer.

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Community Outreach and Translation Core

Core Leader: Phil Brown, Ph.D.

The Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) provides a wide range of educational and consultation services, largely centered on research ethics, at Women and Infants Hospital and Brown University. The Core also engages with the broader Rhode Island community to increase its understanding of potential environmental exposures and health impacts. Some of the engagement activities stem from the center’s research projects, but activities also extend to a wider range of environmental health education that can improve children's lives.

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