New technology may offer safe alternatives to BPA

May 22, 2014
Baby being spoon-fed.

A new test may offer safe alternatives for BPA, a man-made synthetic compound found in a number of plastic household products that has been linked to various health concerns.

Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Baylor College of Medicine have developed a new test that could offer a fast and cost-effective way to identify safe replacements for Bisphenonal A (more commonly known as BPA), a common endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) found in many household items. The findings appear in the current edition of Chemistry & Biology.

Numerous studies have linked exposure to BPA, a man-made synthetic compound used to make plastics and epoxy resins, with various health problems, from poor growth to cancer. Studies in young animals exposed to BPA have raised safety concerns about its use in infant bottles and toddler training cups, and the Federal Drug Administration is now supporting industry efforts to find alternatives for BPA. As a result, many new compounds, including Bispehnol A analogs (BPXs), are now used as substitutes. However, their effects on humans are not fully understood.

The team characterized how 18 different BPA analogs affect estrogen receptors, which are the primary targets of this class of chemicals. The studies were conducted using image analysis in different cell line models, with varying exposures to BPA analogs.

“The high throughput approach that we’ve refined during the past several years can simultaneously quantify what these compounds are doing to a wide range of processes such as protein levels, nuclear trafficking, DNA binding, protein interactions, transcription, cell cycle, and proliferation,” said Michael A. Mancini, Ph.D., professor and director of the Integrated Microscopy Core at Baylor, and the director of Advanced Imaging at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT). “The results showed us that various BPA analogs increased or decreased certain receptor activities, while others were receptor specific; clearly, the various BPA analogs can have unique properties.”

The investigators found that many BPA analogs have inhibitory effects on the beta form of the estrogen receptor, a less-studied steroid receptor that has tumor fighting properties. Many analogs also acted to stimulate the alpha form of the estrogen receptor, or they had mixed inhibitory and stimulatory effects. Determining precisely how these effects influence human health will require additional research.

“These studies would not have been possible with out the funding we received from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which resulted in this breakthrough in our ability to focus precious resources on those BPA analogs, and other endocrine disrupting chemicals, of greatest concern,” said Cheryl Lyn Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M IBT.”

The scientists note that there are likely many more BPA-like compounds that can be found in products and in the environment, and widely-applicable technologies described in the manuscript enable rapid testing of compounds for unexpected and undesirable activities.

This project is one in a pipeline stemming from the newly formed Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), a collaborative cross-institutional effort between the Texas A&M University System, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston, aimed at better understanding the effects of the environment on human health.

“One of only 21 such centers in the country, CTEHR brings together the state’s top environmental health scientists working towards a common goal – promoting new discoveries and translating these discoveries into treatments,” said Walker, who is also leading the center’s initiatives. “By better understanding the effects that EDCs, like BPA, have on our health, we can improve detection and prevention and mitigate the overall disease burden caused by environmental chemicals, ultimately impacting lives around the globe.”

— Holly Shive

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