Organic Chemicals Research Core

Director: Russ Hauser: rhauser@hsph.harvard.edu

The Organic Chemicals Research Core has built a network of investigators, epidemiologists, exposure scientists, clinicians, and toxicologists interested in the adverse health effects of exposures to organic chemicals, with a focus on those that act as endocrine disruptors.

Highlights: This Core has been a leader in recognizing and bringing scientific attention to this important, but until recently understudied, area in environmental health sciences. These chemicals are widely used in products of everyday life, such as in plastics to make them soft and flexible, in personal care products to hold scent and as a preservative, and in a variety of building products. They are also used in food packaging and processing materials and a variety of toys and products for babies and young children. Recent examples of how the Center has enabled and extended research directions include the collaboration of Dr. Hauser and Dr. Racowsky, Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of the In Vitro Fertilization Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Machtinger, a reproductive medicine physician from Israel who was a visiting scientist at Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Through Center Pilot Project funding, they expanded their research focus to include human exposure to organic chemicals.  Drs. Racowsky and Machtinger used an in vitro model to expose immature human oocytes (germinal vesicle) to bisphenol A (BPA) to explore whether it interfered with progression through the normal stages of meiotic maturation. Previous work of Dr. Hauser and others had documented that BPA is present in human follicular fluid, which bathes the oocyte during in vivo maturation. As the dose of BPA increased, there was a significant decrease in the likelihood of an oocyte reaching meiotic maturation (to metaphase II). This is an example of how the Center, through the Research Cores, engages clinicians in studying environmental health issues. The original Pilot Project has led to several new research directions, including a career development grant from the Israeli Environmental Health Fund for Dr. Machtinger. In addition, Drs. Hauser, Racowsky, and Machtinger received NIEHS funding for an R21 grant on Chemicals, Exosomal miRNAs in Ovarian Follicles, and IVF Success in which they collaborated with former Center new investigator Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, who was recently recruited to be Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University.

The Organics Core also established the New England Endocrine Disruptors Consortium (NEEDC), which, working with the Community Engagement Core, brings together investigators and trainees with interdisciplinary backgrounds from area universities and institutions to create new collaborations across the New England area. This has led to Dr. Blair Wylie, chair of maternal-fetal medicine at Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center, and clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital becoming new Center members and studying the impact of organic chemicals on the urogenital microbiome.