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Your Environment. Your Health.

Perinatal & Early Life Epidemiology Group

Environmental exposures in pregnancy and the origins of disease

Kelly Ferguson
Kelly K. Ferguson, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Investigator
Tel 984-287-3700
kelly.ferguson2@nih.gov
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop A3-05
Durham, N.C. 27709

Research Summary

Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., M.P.H., leads the Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group and holds a secondary appointment in the NIEHS Reproductive & Developmental Biology Laboratory

The Perinatal and Early Life Epidemiology Group conducts research on how maternal exposure to chemicals impacts pregnancy and the development of the fetus and child. They also investigate inflammation and oxidative stress as biological mechanisms that may connect chemical exposures to adverse birth outcomes. Each research study addresses one or more of the following focus areas:

  • Optimal exposure assessment, including examination of chemical mixtures
  • Understanding biologic mediators
  • Outcome phenotyping
  • Robust validation of associations

Ferguson is specifically trained in chemical exposure assessment, reproductive health endpoints, advanced statistical methods, and epidemiologic study design. She earned her M.P.H. in Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology and Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. She joined the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch as a Tenure-Track Investigator in 2016.

Studies

The LIFECODES Fetal Growth Study

The LIFECODES pregnancy cohort is a prospective, ongoing cohort conducted by Dr. Thomas McElrath at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. Within the cohort, the LIFECODES Fetal Growth Study is designed to examine consumer product chemical exposures and their cumulative impact on disorders of fetal growth. The objectives of the project are to 1) Examine associations of consumer product chemicals, including phthalates, phenols, and organophosphate flame retardants and pesticides, with disorders of fetal growth in pregnancy; 2) Improve the understanding of the etiology of disorders of fetal growth, specifically targeting inflammatory and oxidative stress pathways, with the analysis of urinary and plasma biomarkers; and 3) Explore phenotypes of fetal growth that may reflect mechanisms of fetal growth restriction.

The Generation R Pregnancy Cohort

The Generation R Study is a prospective cohort study from fetal life until young adulthood in a multi-ethnic urban population from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Under this project, Dr. Ferguson collaborates with investigators at Erasmus Medical Center and elsewhere to investigate questions pertaining to environmental chemical exposures and fetal growth.

Phthalate Exposure and the Human Placenta

With funding from the NICHD Human Placenta Project, Drs. Alfred Abuhamad and George Saade developed a pregnancy cohort to develop novel ultrasound tools to expand the ability to study placental structure and function in vivo. To augment the serial ultrasound measures collected at 8 study visits, Dr. Ferguson added collection of urine samples and questionnaire data to address the following objectives: 1) Investigate variability and trends in phthalate exposure over pregnancy; 2) Examine associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and measures of fetal growth; and 3) Explore associations between urinary phthalate metabolites and measures of placental development and function.

Selected Publications

  1. Welch BM, Keil AP, van 't Erve TJ, Deterding LJ, Williams JG, Lih FB, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2020. Longitudinal profiles of plasma eicosanoids during pregnancy and size for gestational age at delivery: A nested case-control study. PLoS Med; doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003271 [Online 14 August 2020] [Abstract Welch BM, Keil AP, van 't Erve TJ, Deterding LJ, Williams JG, Lih FB, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2020. Longitudinal profiles of plasma eicosanoids during pregnancy and size for gestational age at delivery: A nested case-control study. PLoS Med; doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003271 [Online 14 August 2020]]
  2. Ferguson KK, Rosen ER, Barrett ES, Nguyen RHN, Bush N, McElrath TF, Swan SH, Sathyanarayana S. 2019. Joint impact of phthalate exposure and stressful life events in pregnancy on preterm birth. Environ Int 133(Pt B):105254. [Abstract Ferguson KK, Rosen ER, Barrett ES, Nguyen RHN, Bush N, McElrath TF, Swan SH, Sathyanarayana S. 2019. Joint impact of phthalate exposure and stressful life events in pregnancy on preterm birth. Environ Int 133(Pt B):105254.]
  3. Ferguson KK, Rosen EM, Rosario Z, Feric Z, Calafat AM, McElrath TF, Vega CV, Cordero JF, Alshawabkeh A, Meeker JD. 2019. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth in the PROTECT birth cohort. Environ Int. 132:105099. [Abstract Ferguson KK, Rosen EM, Rosario Z, Feric Z, Calafat AM, McElrath TF, Vega CV, Cordero JF, Alshawabkeh A, Meeker JD. 2019. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth in the PROTECT birth cohort. Environ Int. 132:105099.]
  4. Ferguson KK, van den Dries MA, Gaillard R, Pronk A, Spaan S, Tiemeier H, Jaddoe VWV. 2019. Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure in Pregnancy in Association with Ultrasound and Delivery Measures of Fetal Growth. Environ Health Perspect 127(8):87005. [Abstract Ferguson KK, van den Dries MA, Gaillard R, Pronk A, Spaan S, Tiemeier H, Jaddoe VWV. 2019. Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure in Pregnancy in Association with Ultrasound and Delivery Measures of Fetal Growth. Environ Health Perspect 127(8):87005.]
  5. Ferguson KK, Lan Z, Yu Y, Mukherjee B, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2019. Urinary concentrations of phenols in association with biomarkers of oxidative stress in pregnancy: Assessment of effects independent of phthalates. Environ Int. 131:104903. [Abstract Ferguson KK, Lan Z, Yu Y, Mukherjee B, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2019. Urinary concentrations of phenols in association with biomarkers of oxidative stress in pregnancy: Assessment of effects independent of phthalates. Environ Int. 131:104903.]
  6. Kamai E, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2019. Fetal Growth in Environmental Epidemiology: Mechanisms, Limitations, and a Review of Associations With Biomarkers of Non-persistent Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy. Environ Health 18(1):43. [Abstract Kamai E, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2019. Fetal Growth in Environmental Epidemiology: Mechanisms, Limitations, and a Review of Associations With Biomarkers of Non-persistent Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy. Environ Health 18(1):43.]
  7. van T Erve TJ, Rosen EM, Barret ES, Nguyen RHN, Sathyanarayana S, Milne GL, Calafat AM, Swan SH, Ferguson KK. Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives Have Diverse Associations with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Pregnant Women. Environmental Science & Technology 2019 53(6):3258-3267. [Abstract van T Erve TJ, Rosen EM, Barret ES, Nguyen RHN, Sathyanarayana S, Milne GL, Calafat AM, Swan SH, Ferguson KK. Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives Have Diverse Associations with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Pregnant Women. Environmental Science & Technology 2019 53(6):3258-3267.]
  8. Kim SS, Meeker JD, Carroll R, Zhao S, Mourgas MJ, Richards MJ, Aung M, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2018. Urinary trace metals individually and in mixtures in association with preterm birth. Environ Int. 121(Pt 1):582-590. [Abstract Kim SS, Meeker JD, Carroll R, Zhao S, Mourgas MJ, Richards MJ, Aung M, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. 2018. Urinary trace metals individually and in mixtures in association with preterm birth. Environ Int. 121(Pt 1):582-590.]
  9. Ferguson KK, Meeker JD, Cantonwine DE, Chen YH, Mukherjee B, McElrath TF. Urinary phthalate metabolite and bisphenol A associations with ultrasound and delivery indices of fetal growth. Environ Int 2016; 94:531-7. [Abstract Ferguson KK, Meeker JD, Cantonwine DE, Chen YH, Mukherjee B, McElrath TF. Urinary phthalate metabolite and bisphenol A associations with ultrasound and delivery indices of fetal growth. Environ Int 2016; 94:531-7.]
  10. Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2014. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth. JAMA Pediatr 168(1):61-67. [Abstract Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2014. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth. JAMA Pediatr 168(1):61-67.]

Selected Publications Links

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