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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.
Tel 984-287-3700
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. We also investigate biological mechanisms of action — such as inflammation, oxidative stress, and endocrine disruption — that connect chemical exposures to adverse birth outcomes. Other more general research interests include:

  • Biomarkers of environmental exposures
  • Phenotyping adverse pregnancy outcomes
  • Impacts of prenatal exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds on fertility, pregnancy, and development
  • Statistical methods for longitudinal study design, analysis of exposure mixtures, and mediation

Ferguson is specifically trained in epidemiologic study design, chemical exposure assessment, reproductive health endpoints, and advanced statistical methods. 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.


Phthalate and stressful life event exposures and pregnancy outcomes

The objectives of this project are to 1) Assess whether combined exposure to chemical and non-chemical stressors in pregnancy have an additive or multiplicative effect on adverse pregnancy outcomes; 2) Investigate oxidative stress as a mechanism in these relationships; and 3) Explore effect modification by anti-oxidant supplementation in pregnancy. This research project is part of The Infant Development and the Environment Study (TIDES) led by Shanna Swan, Ph.D., at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Oxidative stress as a mediator of environmental exposure impacts on fertility endpoints

This project is designed to investigate how oxidative stress, as indicated by urinary biomarkers of lipid peroxidation, acts as a mediator between environmental contaminant exposure and reproductive endpoints, including fertility and pregnancy outcomes, in males and females. This is part of the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study conducted by Russ Hauser, M.D., Sc.D., M.P.H., at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

LIFECODES prospective birth cohort

This is an ongoing longitudinal study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston by Thomas McElrath, M.D., Ph.D. Begun in 2006, this study aims to investigate environmental contaminants associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, isolate mechanisms underlying those associations, and identify predictors that can be used for prevention. This project is in collaboration with McElrath, John Meeker (Sc.D., C.I.H., University of Michigan) and David Cantonwine (Ph.D., Brigham and Women’s Hospital). Ferguson is currently working to understand how maternal exposure to trace metals during pregnancy may adversely alter urinary metabolomics profiles and consequently lead to preterm birth or fetal growth restriction.

Selected Publications

  1. Ferguson KK, Chen YH, VanderWeele TJ, McElrath TF, Meeker JD, Mukherjee B. Mediation of the relationship between maternal phthalate exposure and preterm birth by oxidative stress with repeated measurements across pregnancy. Environ Health Perspect 2016. [Abstract]
  2. 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]
  3. Cantonwine DE, Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Mukherjee B, Meeker JD. Variability of urinary bisphenol-A levels during pregnancy and risk of preterm birth. Environ Health Perspect 2015; 123(9):895-901. [Abstract]
  4. Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Chen YH, Loch-Caruso R, Mukherjee B, Meeker JD. 2015. Repeated measures of urinary oxidative stress biomarkers during pregnancy and preterm birth. Am J Obstet Gynecol 212(2):208.e1-208.e8. [Abstract]
  5. Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Chen YH, Mukherjee B, Meeker JD. 2015. Urinary phthalate metabolites and biomarkers of oxidative stress in pregnant women: a repeated measures analysis. Environ Health Perspect 123(3):210-216. [Abstract]
  6. Ferguson KK, Cantonwine DE, Rivera-Gonzalez LO, Loch-Caruso R, Mukherjee B, Anzalota Del Toro LV, Jimenez-Velez B, Calafat AM, Ye X, Alshawabkeh AN, Cordero J, Meeker JD. 2014. Urinary phthalate metabolite associations with biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress across pregnancy in Puerto Rico. Environ Sci Technol 48(12):7018-7025. [Abstract]
  7. Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Meeker JD. 2014. Environmental phthalate exposure and preterm birth. JAMA Pediatr 168(1):61-67. [Abstract]
  8. Ferguson KK, O’Neill MS, Meeker JD. 2013. Environmental contaminant exposures and preterm birth: a comprehensive review. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev 16(2):69-113. [Abstract]
  9. Meeker JD, Ferguson KK. 2011. Relationship between urinary phthalate and bisphenol A concentrations and serum thyroid measures in U.S. adults and adolescents from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007-2008. Environ Health Perspect 119(10):1396-1402. [Abstract]
  10. Ferguson KK, Loch-Caruso R, Meeker JD. 2011. Urinary phthalate metabolites in relation to biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress: NHANES 1999-2006. Environ Res 111(5):718-726. [Abstract]

Selected Publications Links

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