Zelieann Craig, Ph.D., is an early-stage investigator examining the effects of phthalate exposure on reproduction and infertility. Craig joined the University of Arizona (UAZ) as a junior faculty member in 2013 and is also a member of the UAZ Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC).
Craig is developing a novel approach to study how phthalates interfere with the development and function of follicles in the ovary. Ovarian follicles are the part of the ovary that secrete hormones and release egg cells during ovulation. With funding from the SWEHSC pilot project program, Craig has been able to expand her research to identify the proteins and processes that play a role on the effects of phthalates on follicle development. “The pilot funding I received from the SWEHSC allowed me to obtain the preliminary data needed to strengthen my application for a full NIH grant,” said Craig. “This is huge for young investigators like me because it helps establish us in our fields and at our institutions.”
One arm of Craig’s research examines how dibutyl phthalate (DBP), mono-butyl phthalate (MBP), and acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC) affect follicle growth. ATBC is considered a less toxic alternative to DBP and other phthalates currently in use. Craig found that ATBC resulted in toxic effects similar to those observed with DBP. Specifically, ATBC increased the number of non-growing follicles and DNA breakage.
Based on her results, Craig is also now studying whether exposure to low levels of ATBC may impact reproductive function in a mouse model. This research may provide valuable information to inform risk assessment and decision making about the use of phthalate alternatives.
As a young investigator, membership in the SWEHSC has also allowed Craig to meet and collaborate with established scientists who provide valuable career development advice. Additionally, the SWEHSC provides early-career researchers access to cutting-edge technologies to explore complex research questions. According to Craig, access to Center expertise and scientific equipment is critical for young investigators who are working to establish independent research careers.
Craig’s research has been supported by the following grants from NIEHS: P30ES006694, K99/R00ES021467, and R01ES026998.