Nikki Posnack, Ph.D., a post-doctoral pharmacology and physiology researcher at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), received a $209,926 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study plastics and their potential human health risks, particularly in the cardiovascular system. This grant will support the study of two chemicals found in plastic products: bisphenol A (BPA) and di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP).
Over the next few years, Posnack will study these endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) to determine whether they can interfere with the homeostatsis, or internal stability, of the cardiovascular system. She will also study whether EDCs affect the mechanical function of excised hearts, expanding on her previous research finding that BPA exposure slowed electrical conduction in these hearts.
While there are many BPA-free and phthalate-free plastics, these compounds are still found in many consumer products, including food containers, toys, and medical devices. As a result, exposure to EDCs has become virtually continuous and essentially unavoidable, a fact highlighted by human biomonitoring studies. Of particular concern are the high levels of exposure experienced by industrial workers and infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Units.
"The one thing we are trying to get to the bottom of is whether BPA is toxic or not," said Posnack. "There are groups on both sides, offering different conclusions, often depending on funding. Some researchers have seen correlations between BPA and cardiovascular disease. We are trying to find out whether real concentrations of the chemicals people are exposed to might cause an adverse cardiac effect. We hope to find out definitively whether this is or is not a concern."
This grant will include research into prenatal exposure to these chemicals, as well as the effects of BPA and DEHP on animals that have undergone heart failure or cardiac injury.
This prestigious two-part transitional award is a National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence Award, also known as a K99 grant, which will later transition to a R00 grant. While SMHS has several R00 recipients, Posnack is the first to have received this award at the K99 level.
George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences