School or College:
The mammary gland is a dynamic organ that undergoes incredible changes during pregnancy and lactation as the mom prepares to feed her young. These changes are driven by a series of tightly regulated hormonal signals that guide the gland’s growth and stimulate milk production. Furthermore, the changes that occur during pregnancy and lactation also have long-term benefits, leaving lasting changes that reduce the lifetime risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, many chemical contaminants in the environment have been shown to interact with and alter the important balance of hormones, potentially threatening how the mammary gland develops following pregnancy. We call these contaminants endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
Exposure to EDCs during vulnerable periods of change, such as pregnancy and lactation, have been shown to induce permanent changes to organs or increase the risk of disease later in life. Exposure to EDC’s during pregnancy and lactation may have profound effects on mom’s ability to feed her babies in the short-term, as well as reduce her long-term protection from breast cancers. Seeking to address these concerns, Joshua’s research uses mice as a model to test the effects of EDCs on mammary gland health during pregnancy and lactation and evaluate long-term structural and functional changes in the mammary glands. The results of his research will inform doctors, policymakers, and the public on risks that EDCs pose to pregnant and nursing women. Furthermore, his research will provide framework for future studies that address vulnerabilities of the mammary gland to environmental chemicals and seek ways to protect the health of mothers and their babies.