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Dr. Mitzi Nagarkatti and Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti awarded $1.55 million NIH grant to study maternal and fetal health

Drs Mitzi Nagarkatti and Prakash Nagarkatti from the School of Medicine have been awarded a new five year $1.55 million R01 grant from the National Institute of Health. This grant tests an exciting hypothesis known as the “fetal basis of adult disease”.  This concept was developed following epidemiological evidence showing that malnutrition or exposure to environmental stress during pregnancy, may have a long lasting impact on the developing fetus and that such a fetus, during adult stage of life, would become more susceptible to a wide range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases including hypertension and diabetes.  both grant winners photo

This notion was further supported by observations in women and children exposed to synthetic hormones.  An estimated 5-10 million Americans, between 1938-1975, were exposed to a synthetic estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES). This included women who were given DES during pregnancy to supplement a woman’s natural estrogen so as to prevent miscarriages or premature deliveries, and those who were exposed to the drug as afetus during pregnancy. 

Exposure to DES during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk for breast cancer in mothers and a life time risk of cervical cancers in daughters. Exposure to DES in the uterus has also been linked to a wide range of abnormalities in sons and daughters, including immune system disorders.

The Nagarkattis’ research will focus on how exposure to DES during pregnancy would alter the functions of the immune system of the fetus thereby making an individual more susceptible to cancer, autoimmune diseases and infections.

This research on DES is expected to serve as a template to study a growing list of chemicals including pharmaceuticals, pesticides, soy products, contraceptives and livestock feed supplements, which mimic human estrogen, and understand how exposure to such “environmental estrogens” during pregnancy as a fetus may make an individual more susceptible to wide range of diseases during adult life.  The Nagarkattis’ research will also help develop novel treatment modalities to prevent the harmful effect on the developing fetus caused by environmental estrogens and subsequent disease in the adult.