George Mason University
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George Mason University

College of Health and Human Services to Study Link Between Environmental Pollutants and Endometriosis with $1.6 Million NIH Grant

February 5, 2020   /   by Michelle Thompson

First of its kind study to determine whether chemicals detected in the uterus are associated with endometriosis and its severity.

Photo by Jana Sabeth on UnsplashDr. Anna Pollack, associate professor at the College of Health and Human Services has received a $1.6M grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), an institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to study the link between endometriosis and endocrine disrupting chemicals. These chemicals are sometimes called forever chemicals and are commonly found in humans’ diets and household products.  

Endometriosis, a disorder where uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, affects 6-11% of women of child bearing age. The disorder can cause pain and infertility, and the annual cost of endometriosis-related health care has reached billions of dollars in the United States. Little is known about its cause. 

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may produce adverse developmental, reproductive, and neurological effects and are ubiquitous in our daily lives.

The study—the first to measure concentrations of endocrine disruptors both inside and outside the uterus—seeks to answer two questions: first whether levels of these endocrine disruptors inside the uterus are associated with endometriosis and, second, if these chemicals in endometrial tissue found outside the uterus are associated with the severity of the disorder.  

The study leverages data and specimens collected from the Endometriosis: Natural History, Diagnosis, and Outcomes (ENDO) Study. The ENDO study (conducted at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) enrolled 495 women aged 18-44, both with and without endometriosis prior to laparoscopic surgery. Using the tissue taken during the surgery, researchers will study concentrations of endocrine disruptors in healthy tissue inside the uterus and endometriosis implant tissues and determine if they are associated with endometriosis.

“NIH support for this research will shed insight about endocrine disruptors’ roles in the development of gynecologic diseases such as endometriosis.  As an emerging leader in public health research, George Mason University is a natural place for this research to take place,” says Dr. Germaine Louis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services and principal investigator for the original ENDO study.

The study will focus on two specific classes of endocrine disrupting chemicals that stay in the body long after initial exposure: polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs have not been manufactured in the United States for decades. PFASs are currently in use and show up in water systems and household materials such as stain-resistant fabrics and non-stick frying pans.

Dr. Anna Pollack will serve as the principal investigator for the study along with co-investigators Drs. Germaine Buck Louis and Jenna Krall.

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