The clinical laboratory has a long history of helping clinicians detect environmental exposures, most commonly poisonings with heavy metals. Recently, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have emerged as a new area where the clinical lab can partner with environmental toxicologists to improve human health. EDCs are chemical substances found in everyday products (e.g. plastic bottles, cosmetics, and pesticides), which may cause developmental, reproductive, and neurological effects by interfering with the endocrine system. EDC-related diseases are estimated to cost Americans $340 billion each year in preventable costs.
This afternoon at a scientific session titled “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Children and Environmental Health– Emerging Opportunities for the Clinical Laboratory,” experts will explain EDCs, the important role they play in individual and public health, and the role clinical laboratories can have in their detection.
For nearly four decades, Linda Birnbaum, PhD, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and a speaker at this afternoon’s session, has been studying the health effects of environmental chemicals. “I have long been interested in the world around us and how the places we live, work, and play contribute to our health and wellness,” Birnbaum said. She will cover the many reasons EDCs are of interest to clinical laboratorians.
EDCs can have effects at very low levels, and in some cases within the range of normal human exposure. Additionally, EDCs have effects during early human development, which can lead to long term health effects that remain even after the chemical exposure has stopped. Moreover, EDCs are now ubiquitous in our environment, found in organisms from the Marianas Trench to the Arctic, and in nearly every human biomonitoring sample.
Birnbaum will delve into why she believes that improving environmental health comes from cross-disciplinary teams of scientists working together. “I am thankful to be invited to speak at the AACC Annual Scientific Meeting because clinical chemists are strong partners in determining human exposures and advancing public health,” she said.
Also speaking at the session will be Leonardo Trasande, MD, who became passionate about environmental health during a legislative fellowship in the office of Senator Hillary Clinton. Trasande will be speaking about the large, and costly, public health threats EDCs have on children’s health and will describe the accumulating evidence that there is very high probability EDCs contribute to many disease outcomes. Importantly, he will also address the reasons why measuring exposure is a crucial part of guiding prevention and intervention efforts.
Finally, Roy Gerona, PhD, will speak about measuring EDCs in biological samples and about what specifically the clinical laboratory can offer. While laboratory measurement of EDCs has seen a significant increase in recent years, these measurements were mainly performed by laboratories specialized in environmental testing that do not adhere to the same requirements and quality systems adopted by their clinical counterparts.
Gerona will illustrate the opportunities clinical laboratorians have to improve measurements of EDCs and, consequently, advance the scientific and medical communities’ understanding of EDCs’ effects on human health.