La Verne Professor Receives Grant to Fund Undergraduate Research on Potential Toxins in Plastic Containers.

October 26, 2009
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baby-bottlesChemicals within plastic containers such as water bottles, baby bottles and food receptacles and the health risks they pose have become a major concern of both the medical community and the public at large. This potential hazard is the focus of Associate Professor Christine Broussard’s research at University of La Verne.


Broussard, who teaches biology at La Verne, recently received a $203,538 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in recognition of the ongoing research she and her undergraduate students are conducting on potentially harmful chemicals in these plastic containers. The award is the university’s first federal biomedical research grant.


The highly competitive, three-year grant is an Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the federal economic stimulus package.  


Broussard’s successful proposal for the grant was based on data she generated with her undergraduate students. “It’s pretty amazing that the work we did with undergraduate students was at a level to be federally funded. Most research of this caliber submitted for grants is done by graduate and post-doctoral students – people who are full-time researchers working with the principal investigator,” she said. “La Verne’s Natural Sciences Department is unique in that we are an undergraduate institution, but we are able to do the quality of work that would be funded by these agencies.”


The NIH grant will help Broussard and her students study how two well-known toxins – diethylstilbestrol (DES) and methoxychlor (MXC), referred to as “endocrine disruptors” – affect the development of embryos through their interference with the immune system.


“I’m excited about this grant and the project because it’s an opportunity for us to really look at what’s happening to a developing immune system when it’s exposed to this class of molecules,” said Broussard. “The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t test whether chemicals affect the development of the immune system in its evaluation of chemicals to be licensed. However, there is abundant research currently indicating that humans who have been exposed to endocrine disruptors during pregnancy have children with immune problems.”


Broussard added that there has also been great concern in the medical community about how allergies and asthma have become more severe and more common in the last 20 years. “That increase cannot be explained through genetics,” she said. “There has to be environmental factors influencing it.”


The AREA grant is meant to stimulate research in educational institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH support in the past and to provide unprecedented research opportunities for students.


NIH, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research, is headquartered in Bethesda, Md. For more than a century it has played an important role in improving the health of the nation. Composed of 27 Institutes and Centers, the NIH provides leadership and financial support to researchers in every state and throughout the world.




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