Laura N. Vandenberg
Research areas include biomarkers of exposure, pre-cancerous indicators, in vivo models, and environmental factors.
My research explores how early life exposures to chemicals and chemical mixtures can predispose individuals to diseases that manifest later in life. Classical toxicology often focuses on how fetal chemical exposures can produce birth defects, an important part of chemical safety. My work instead addresses how low doses of chemicals during critical windows of development can alter gene expression, cell differentiation, and tissue organization in subtle ways that can lead to adult diseases such as cancer, obesity, and infertility. I am specifically interested in the class of chemicals termed "endocrine disruptors" and have worked extensively with chemicals used in plastics, personal care products, pesticides, and household goods.
Our work aims at:
- Develop new in vivo tools to assess cancer risk factors following environmental insults,
- Develop robust, state-of-the-art methods that can be used by chemists to assess the toxicity of compounds, including their endocrine disrupting potential, and identify ‘safer’ alternatives, and
- Understand why traditional approaches to risk assessments have failed to identify the toxic properties of many ubiquitous environmental chemicals.
Our work has shown that compounds that mimic or block the actions of natural hormones, so-called endocrine disruptors, can disrupt the development of organs in subtle ways, but that these subtle changes represent risk factors for deadly adult diseases. The mammary gland is a highly sensitive organ to compounds that disrupt estrogen, progesterone, androgen and growth hormone signaling pathways. Using this organ as a sensitive read-out allows us to identify compounds that can disrupt the sensitive hormonal milieu of the developing organism.
Working in collaboration with Green Chemists and other Environmental Health Scientists, we have been improving the methods that are available to screen environmental chemicals for toxicity. These methods can be used by chemists to increase the likelihood that new products are devoid of endocrine disrupting properties. We expect that these emerging, state-of-the-art assays will provide significant improvements over the traditional assays that have widely failed to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Finally, work from our lab and our collaborations with governmental and academic scientists has focused on how chemical safety assessments can be improved. Historically, risk assessments have failed to appreciate how some compounds can contribute to diseases such as breast cancer, especially when exposures to humans are quite low. Our work has focused on understanding the toxicokinetic properties of environmental chemicals, their sources and different routes of exposure, and identifying the most sensitive and reliable methods for assessing toxicity.
- BS Biology, Cornell University, 2003
- PhD Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine, 2008
- Postdoctoral Fellowship Forsyth Institute & Harvard School of Dental Medicine, 2007-2008
- Postdoctoral Fellowship Tufts University, 2008-2013