The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Student Spotlight: Durga Kolla Seeks to Identify Possible Risk Factors in Exposure to Synthetic Hormones

Durga Kolla, recipient of the 2017 CRF Family Research Honors Capstone Award, is a student in the Environmental Health Sciences 4+1 BS/MS program in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. She studies the effects of environmental chemicals on mice throughout their lifespan.

Originally a pre-med student as an undergraduate, Durga changed her major to public health and neuroscience after taking Introduction to Environmental Health Sciences with Dr. Laura Vandenberg, a 2015-16 CRF Family Research Scholar. This class opened her eyes to a new line of research and soon after this experience, she joined Dr. Vandenberg’s lab and began researching the effects of synthetic chemicals on developing mice.

Durga’s research specifically focuses on the effects of exposure to environmental chemicals with estrogenic activity in relation to the development of the mammary gland in mice. Her work has mostly focused on the chemical BPS.

“About 10 years ago there was a lot of public outcry to ban BPA (Bisphenol A) from everyday household items such as plastic baby bottles and toys. The industry removed BPA from many of these products, and labeled them as ‘BPA free’, but they ended up replacing it with a lesser known, less well-studied hormone-mimicking chemical known as BPS (Bisphenol S),” she explains.

Durga’s master’s thesis hopes to answer the question of whether or not BPS behaves similarly to BPA. She is hoping to determine whether developmental exposure to BPS will alter the response of mice to subsequent hormonal treatment at puberty and as adults. Durga explains that it will be crucial to answer this question as we think about the effects BPS has on humans.

“Puberty is a sensitive time in our bodies because our hormones are changing,” explains Durga. “If we are exposed not only to our own estrogens, but estrogens in the environment at this age, what are the long-term implications of that? A lot of women will take hormonal birth control at some point in their lives, which is an additional exposure to estrogen. We want to find out what the impact will be on a woman’s biological response and whether this will increase her likelihood of diseases like breast cancer.”

Durga was encouraged by Dr. Vandenberg to apply for the CRF Capstone thesis award. She describes her research as being directly related to children and families, “All populations are exposed to environmental chemicals. BPS is found in water bottles, medical equipment, canned food linings, plastic food containers, dental sealants- everywhere. We are trying to pinpoint when in the developmental process we are most vulnerable.”

Receiving the CRF Capstone thesis award has been an incredible motivator to continue her work. “It motivated me to be better and to work harder. It means so much when other researchers and scientists recognize students’ success, that they believe in us.”

As a thesis award recipient, Durga describes feeling fortunate to have been welcomed into a community that offers students so much. “I have met so many inspiring people through CRF and I feel like they have so much to offer to support students.”

Durga has entered her second year in her master’s program and continues to collect data for her research. She plans on defending her thesis in the Spring of 2018.


--Faith English