Unlocking environmental mysteries to cancer and endometriosis

How do environmental chemicals and pollutants increase cancer risk for pregnant women and their children? And what are the environmental causes of endometriosis? We are proud to announce that PRHE’s scientists are part of two new major initiatives that hope to unlock mysteries to cancer and endometriosis.

UCSF Discovering cancer Risks from Environmental contaminants And Maternal/child health (DREAM)

PRHE researchers are partners in phase one of a $14 million grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health that will examine how pollutants increase cancer risk by comparing a racially and economically diverse group of pregnant women and children in the San Francisco Bay Area to those who live in California’s Central Valley, a community of primarily low-income Latinx disproportionately impacted by pesticides and other toxic chemicals.

“Pregnancy is a sensitive time in human development and can increase susceptibility to harms from chemicals and contaminants in the environment,” said Dr. Tracey Woodruff, Professor and Director of PRHE and the EaRTH Center. “We will be studying the effects of about 200 chemicals on health, including mixtures of exposures to phthalates, pesticides, air pollutants, and contaminants in water, to get a better sense of real-world experiences and exposures.” 

The DREAM project will collect and analyze data and biospecimen samples from the second trimester of pregnancy until the child reaches four years of age. Researchers will also explore how chemicals in the environment that disrupt endocrine and other systems increase cancer risk.

“Pregnancy induces multiple maternal hormonal and physiological changes that can increase the effects of chemical exposures on cancer susceptibility,” said Peggy Reynolds, PhD, MPH, a UCSF adjunct professor and epidemiologist whose research focus is environmental risk factors to cancer. “We plan to compare biospecimen data with geographic analyses of where our study participants live to identify risk patterns along with biomarkers to inform future cancer risk models.”

This research is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UG3CA265845. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

New Endometriosis Center (ENACT) launches to improve diagnosis, treatment, and explore environmental links to the disease

Endometriosis is a chronic, debilitating, and painful condition that affects millions of women for which effective treatment and pain relief are lacking. While the cause is not known and it affects women differently, endometriosis is when uterine lining-like tissue attaches to the pelvis and organs causing pelvic pain and infertility. Risk of developing the disease is ~50% genetic and ~50% environmental. A recent systematic review of 50 independent epidemiological studies found associations between endometriosis and higher levels of environmental chemicals including PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins, phthalates, organochlorines, and bisphenol A. The condition severely affects the quality of life for those who suffer from it and is estimated to cost about $69 billion annually in the U.S.

To improve endometriosis diagnosis and treatment and better understand the disease origins and subtypes, UCSF is partnering with Stanford University to launch the NIH funded UCSF Stanford Endometriosis Center for Discovery, Innovation, Training and Community Engagement (ENACT). Spearheaded by PRHE founder and UCSF ob-gyn Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, the new center will take a comprehensive and transdisciplinary approach to study the disease mechanisms, environmental influences, and diagnosis, disease classification, and treatment. Dr. Giudice says of the center:

We are thrilled to be working on such an important women’s health issue to understand and address causes of endometriosis and how to best treat those who have it.

The center will also engage in education and community outreach to empower women in the Bay Area to address endometriosis-related health disparities. To accomplish this work, UCSF and Stanford have assembled a multi-disciplinary team of investigators, including Dr. Woodruff, along with educators, and community representatives.