For over twenty years, Dr. Gail Prins (pictured, left) reproductive physiologist at University of Illinois College of Medicine, has been studying the effects early exposure to estrogen can have on the prostate. But due to her recent findings, she is becoming a central figure in basic research and policy deliberations regarding adverse effects of bisphenol A.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that hardens plastics and can be found in various products, including baby bottles, plastic cups, and the epoxy lining of many food cans. It leaches, or seeps, through these materials and is an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors have the ability to mimic or alter natural hormones.
Epidemiologic evidence exists that higher levels of estrogen—a natural hormone—during fetal life are associated with a greater risk of prostate cancer in adult men.
Bisphenol A mimics estrogen specifically, and Prins has been finding that early exposure to bisphenol A in infant rats increases susceptibility to prostate cancer as they age.
Dr. Prins is not the first investigator to cite possible harmful effects of exposure to BPA during developmental phases. Her data underscores fellow investigators' work with animal studies that suggests such exposure may result in a range of adverse effects, including diabetes, premature development, and various cancers. Though the Federal Drug Administration had the issue under review in 2009, pubic concern over the chemical's presence in food containers steadily grew.
In early 2009, Chicago Alderman Manuel Flores and Chicago Alderman Edward Burke proposed the city-wide BPA Kids Free Ordinance; Dr. Prins was among those invited to testify support. While the measure was not initially approved—a resolution was first issued asking the FDA to expedite its safety review—the City Council later unanimously voted to pass the BPA Kids Free Ordinance, making Chicago the first city to impose a ban on the sale of sippy cups and baby bottles intended for children under three containing BPA. The law went into effect the following year, on January 31, 2010.
At the state level, Illinois is considering a similar but farther reaching ban, and in May of 2010 Dr. Prins testified support in Springfield before the Senate Environment Subcommittee on Children's Environmental Health Issues.
Still, Prins says she is not a lobbyist, but rather an advisor who will present opinions when asked. “I think it’s important to get involved locally...” she says, and encourages colleagues to do the same, “...so that when their state comes up...,” they will be prepared.
Additionally, Dr. Prins is a member of the eight person Endocrine Society task force which produced the Society's first scientific statement, titled, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. The statement is significant and has been cited in numerous articles. Last November, the American Medical Society adapted the Statement's recommendations as policy.
But even with growing evidence pointing to hazardous effects of early exposure to bisphenol A, there's room for disagreement between toxicity testers and academic researchers. Academic researchers had not been conducting bisphenol A toxicity/safety tests specifically, and were not accessing the safety or hazards of exposing human beings to bisphenol A. Toxicity testers conduct such tests. The toxicity testers' purpose, processes, and methodologies are different than the academic researchers,' and consequently, so are their opinions.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences decided to expand on current efforts and create a new collaboration, combining academic researchers and government scientists who were already working at NIEHS, (such as those from the National Toxicology Program) with key investigators from a range of outside organizations. With a portion of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds allocated to bisphenol A research and addressing existing 'research cracks,' NIEHS solicited grantees. Dr. Prins won one of the coveted RC2 grants, and is now part of a newly assembled NIEHS team.
Prins says her group incorporates some of the methods used by toxicology testers, for example in this study she feeds bisphenol A to rats by mouth, as opposed to her regular method, injection under the skin. Additionally, all bisphenol A used in the study will be provided by a single source, the Food and Drug Administration.
As cited on the NIEH website, “Collectively, the results of these new ARRA funded studies and ongoing studies should begin to chip away at uncertainties and provide a better understanding of the potential risks that exposure to bisphenol A poses to public health.” This project is ongoing.
For more information on Dr. Prins and her work, please see: http://godot.urol.uic.edu/dept/research_prins.php