Researchers studying the health effects of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) gathered in North Carolina to launch an integrated research initiative to produce data that will allow for a comprehensive assessment of its possible human health effects.
Researchers who just received funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to study BPA were brought together to meet with scientists from academia and government already working on the compound. The meeting was held Oct. 6, 2009 at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
The meeting is part of an effort to support human and animal research that will help determine if current exposures to BPA in the general population pose a potential health risk. NIEHS is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and has the lead in supporting research to study the potential effects that chemicals, such as BPA, may have on human health. President Obama allocated $5 billion in Recovery Act funds to the NIH, with about $14 million going to NIEHS for research on BPA.
"We know that many people are concerned about bisphenol A and we want to support the best science we can to provide the answers," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., who serves as director of the NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency program for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Bringing the key BPA researchers together at the onset of new funding will maximize the impact of our expanded research effort."
NIEHS will invest approximately $30 million over two years on BPA-related research. This includes existing grants, the newly awarded Recovery Act grants and supplements, in-house research and NTP projects. The NTP effort is part of a larger five-year commitment to collaborate with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's National Center for Toxicological Research to examine long-term health outcomes resulting from developmental exposures.
BPA is a chemical used primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. People, including children, are exposed to BPA in food and beverages when it leaches from the internal epoxy resin coatings of canned foods and also from consumer products such as polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles and baby bottles. In 2008, NTP and NIEHS concluded that there is evidence from animal studies that BPA may be causing adverse effects. But researchers are uncertain about whether the changes seen in the animal studies would result in human health problems. For this reason, NIEHS identified BPA as a priority area.
The innovative two-year grants provided through the Recovery Act will support human and animal studies that address many of the research gaps identified by expert scientific panels, and provide a better understanding of how this chemical may impact human health.
"We want the new grantees to be able to hit the ground running," said Jerry Heindel, health scientist administrator at the NIEHS who oversees much of the institute's portfolio on BPA. "Having the key players talking to one another as they begin new research efforts will stimulate collaboration, create opportunities to share resources, and encourage researchers to develop reliable and reproducible methods that will allow for a comprehensive assessment of the human health effects of BPA."
In animal studies, there is some evidence linking BPA exposure with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and mammary gland cancer and diabetes. For the newly funded research, two-year animal and human studies will focus on either developmental exposure or adult chronic exposures to low doses of BPA. Researchers will be looking at a number of health effects including behavior, obesity, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer, asthma, cardiovascular diseases and transgenerational or epigenetic effects. The 10 Recovery Act NIH Grand Opportunities grants focusing on BPA research have been awarded to:
- Scott M. Belcher, University of Cincinnati
- Kim Harley and Brenda Eskenazi, University of California, Berkeley
- B. Paige Lawrence, University of Rochester, N.Y.
- Gail S. Prins, University of Illinois at Chicago; Shuk-Mei Ho, University of Cincinnati; and Kevin P. White, University of Chicago.
- Beverly Sharon Rubin and Andrew S. Greenberg, Tufts University, Boston
- Ana Soto, Tufts University, Boston
- Shanna H. Swan and Bernard Weiss, University of Rochester
- Frederick vom Saal, University of Missouri, Columbia and William Allen Ricke, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester.
- Cheryl L. Walker, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Shuk-Mei Ho, University of Cincinnati; and Michael A. Mancini, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
- Robin Marjorie Whyatt, Columbia University Health Sciences, New York City
"Without the support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we would not have been able to expand on this research that is of such concern to so many people," said Birnbaum. "Through this effort we will be able to provide a better perspective of the potential threat that exposure to bisphenol A poses to public health."