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Charlotte is conducting research using per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS chemicals are commonly found in nonstick cookware, personal care products, water resistant fabrics, and fire-fighting foams. These are often termed “forever chemicals” due to their environmental persistence and have been shown to have negative effects on nearly all systems in the body. One PFAS of particular concern is perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Although PFOS was phased out of production in the U.S. in the early 2000s, it is found in >98% of human serum samples tested and, therefore, is of concern for human health. Importantly, PFOS can pass the placental barrier, and can be found in cord blood, amniotic fluid and breast milk indicating that there is developmental PFOS exposure in humans. Following development, exposure continues throughout the lifecourse, as PFOS has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes melitus, and obesity due to alterations in lipid metabolism. Zebrafish are an excellent model organism due to their fast development, genetic similarity, and the pancreas is very similar to that of humans in terms of both development and function.
Her honors thesis project is focusing on the optimization and implementation of lipid uptake and protease activity assays using zebrafish that have been developmentally exposed to PFOS. The pancreas is essential for regulation of a variety of metabolic functions including lipid, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism. In previous studies, PFAS chemicals have been demonstrated to alter exocrine pancreas function through lipid uptake and lipid metabolism. This can lead to the lipid being improperly taken up in the first place or impact the correct use of the lipid as well as alter the rate of the lipid being taken up. These functions are crucial to the growth and survival of zebrafish and humans, as they affect the ability to absorb and digest nutrients. Zebrafish developmentally exposed to PFOS specifically have shown a variety of negative effects in relation to the exocrine pancreas such as reduced size and a decreased expression of genes that encode for pancreatic digestive enzymes. However, whether or not PFOS affects the function of the pancreas has not yet been elucidated. Charlotte's work aims to optimize and implement three main assays in order to determine the effects of developmental PFOS exposure on the function of the exocrine pancreas in terms of lipid uptake, lipid metabolism, and digestive enzyme activity.