Walter J. Rogan, M.D.
Walter J. Rogan, M.D.
Special Volunteer (Retired)
Tel 984-287-3682
[email protected]
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop A3-05
Durham, NC 27709

Research Summary

Soy and Endocrine Disruption

Although there is much experimental evidence that pollutant chemicals can disrupt hormone action in humans, clinical and epidemiologic evidence is scarce. Genistein, the most potent plant estrogen in soy foods, is a likely endocrine disruptor. Donna Baird, Ph.D., from the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, conducted a clinical trial involving dietary soy in post-menopausal women, where up to 30 percent of their calories came from soy. However, there was little evidence of endocrine disruption. Noting that infants who are fed soy formula get 100 percent of their calories from soy, Walter Rogan, M.D., NIEHS statistician David Umbach, Ph.D., and colleagues from Boston and Philadelphia Children’s Hospitals conducted a series of pilot studies to develop and standardize methods to detect evidence of estrogen exposure in infants.

Using those methods, they found that female infants fed soy formula showed estrogen effects in the size of their uterus and the cells of their vaginas. This is the clearest evidence so far that substances like genistein act as estrogens both in laboratory studies and in humans, due to commonly encountered exposures. Since retirement, Rogan has continued to publish results from this study in collaboration with Umbach; former Epidemiology Branch postdoctoral fellows Margaret Adgent, Ph.D., and Helen Chin, Ph.D.; and current NIEHS Independent Research Scholar Mandy Goldberg, Ph.D.

Citation: Adgent MA, Umbach DM, Zemel BS, Kelly A, Schall JI, Ford EG, James K, Darge K, Botelho JC, Vesper HW, Chandler DW, Nakamoto JM, Rogan WJ, Stallings VA. 2018. A Longitudinal Study of Estrogen-Responsive Tissues and Hormone Concentrations in Infants Fed Soy Formula. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 103(5):1899–1909.

Succimer for Lead-exposed Children

In 1991, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved succimer as the first orally administered drug that lowered blood lead concentration in children. There were more than 600,000 children in the U.S. whose blood lead concentration was above the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) level of concern. These children might score lower on IQ tests but did not have clinical lead poisoning.

Rogan and other leading experts expressed concerned that children would be given succimer without evidence that it reversed the IQ deficit. Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., who at the time was the new NIEHS Director, approved a clinical trial to answer this question. Rogan was the Project Officer and one of 3 principal investigators on the Treatment of Lead-exposed Children (TLC) Trial. The research team eventually showed that succimer lowered blood lead but did not raise IQ. The study made clear that preventing lead exposure was the only way to prevent the ill effects of lead.

Citation: Rogan WJ, Dietrich KN, Ware JH, Dockery DW, Salganik M, Radcliffe J, Jones RL, Ragan NB, Chisolm JJ Jr, Rhoads GG; Treatment of Lead-Exposed Children Trial Group. 2001. The effect of chelation therapy with succimer on neuropsychological development in children exposed to lead. N Engl J Med 344(19):1421–1426.

Degraded PCBs in Taiwan

In 1979, degraded polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from a food processing machine contaminated cooking oil in Taiwan, causing hundreds of cases of a skin disease called chloracne as well as liver disease and other conditions. In 1983, Rogan, with the late Chen-Chin Hsu, Ph.D., of National Taiwan University; Beth Gladen, Ph.D.; and others identified 113 children who were born to poisoned women. The children had developmental delay, slowed growth, skin diseases, and poorly formed or absent teeth. This study formed part of the data that made California declare PCBs to be a known human teratogen.

Citation: Rogan WJ, Gladen BC, Hung KL, Koong SL, Shih LY, Taylor JS, Wu YC, Yang D, Ragan NB, Hsu CC. 1988. Congenital poisoning by polychlorinated biphenyls and their contaminants in Taiwan. Science 241(4863):334–336.

PCBs in North Carolina

In 1976, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that human milk had surprisingly high concentrations of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (a persistent pesticide commonly referred to by its acronym, DDT) and PCBs. Rogan and two of his NIEHS colleagues conducted one of 2 birth cohort studies designed to see whether background exposures to those pollutants caused detectable harm to children. Both of the early cohort studies, and later many others, found that PCB exposures before birth from the chemicals stored in the mother’s body fat slowed the baby’s development.

Citation: Gladen BC, Rogan WJ, Hardy P, Thullen J, Tingelstad J, Tully M. 1988. Development after exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene transplacentally and through human milk. J Pediatr 113(6):991-995.

Children’s Environmental Health Policy

Rogan was NIEHS Liaison to the Committee on Environmental Health at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for 36 years. AAP has many technical committees that write policy statements guiding the thousands of pediatricians who are members of the Academy. Rogan was primary author on several such statements, and he participated in the drafting and editing of the many statements produced by the Committee on Environmental Health in his time there. He was also an Ex Officio member of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention for 16 years. These two committees provided much of the influential policy about children’s environmental health in the U.S.


Rogan earned an M.D. and an M.P.H. in Biostatistics from the combined program at the University of California (UC), San Francisco and UC Berkeley, and he interned at San Francisco General Hospital. Rogan joined NIEHS in 1976. At various times, he served as Chief of the institute’s Epidemiology Branch; Associate Director of the Division of Biometry and Risk Assessment; and Acting Clinical Director. He held adjunct faculty appointments at the University of North Carolina school of public health and medical school, and at Duke University School of Medicine. He is Past President of the American Epidemiological Society and an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He received the Mervin Susser and Zena Stein Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Coalition for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Epidemiology. He retired in 2013, becoming a Special Volunteer in the Epidemiology Branch.