Dr. Jerry Darsey, professor of chemistry in UALR's College of Science and Mathematics, has received $77,000 from a federal Food and Drug Administration grant to develop methods to track estrogen mimicking compounds in various products and assess how use of the products affect women.
Darsey and graduate students Billy Griffin and Sushma Thotakura will help develop methods to study these estrogen-mimicking compounds found in many medications, food additives, and consumer products.
"The project is important because of the link between taking estrogen and developing breast cancer," said Dr. Michael Gealt, dean of the college. "Estrogenic compounds may also increase the possibility of heart disease and stroke."
The grant will allow the development of a methodology to track estrogen in consumer products and food to see if those additives add to women's health risks.
Dr. Jon Wilkes at the National Center for Toxicological Research - a branch of the FDA - is the principal investigator on the project. He will be assisted at NCTR primarily by Drs. Dan Buzatu and Richard Beger and staff scientist Elizabeth Geesaman.
They have developed an accurate computational approach predicting biological responses based on mechanically calculated data and artificial intelligence and models developed using correlations to biological responses. The approach provides the possibility of evaluating hundreds or thousands of potential compounds in much less time than it would take to evaluate only a few compounds by way of more traditional methods.
Their method also would reduce the need for test animals, reducing costs and the ethical concerns regarding the use of animals in toxicology testing.
In the last 35 years, more than 40 studies of factors affecting the health and illness of women have been conducted examining the risks of taking estrogen hormone replacement and developing breast cancer. A study by the Women's Health Initiative released in 2005 also showed increased risk of heart disease and stroke as well as increased breast cancer risks from estrogen replacement.
"A big problem, which is getting more scrutiny, is that estrogenic activity is known to be present in numerous environmental systems," Darsey said. "Several compounds containing natural or synthetic estrogens are known to be present in water and some food products, although in very low concentrations."
The FDA requires extensive studies and screens during product development, regulatory, and approval processes. Often, processes testing products result in thousands of publications in hundreds of journals each year.
"Very often, there are conflicting results which must be evaluated," he said. "Thus, there has been considerable interest in the development of computational models to predict some of the biological activities, including toxic effects, of these compounds. There is a real need for alternative methods for estimating biological response in humans."