European grants for test method development to identify endocrine disruptors

The department Environment & Health of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam receives over 3 million euros from the European Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 for three research projects dedicated to develop highly needed test methods for the identification of endocrine disruptors.

01/14/2019 | 3:13 PM

Majorie van Duursen, Professor Environmental Health and Toxicology: “Endocrine disruptors are present in many products that we use in our daily lives, such as plastics, air fresheners and cosmetics. Currently, we lack dedicated tests to assess endocrine disrupting properties of chemicals in regulatory frameworks for example for chemical substances, pesticides and biocides.”

Better test methods can help protect the health of humans and the environment. In humans, endocrine disruptors can affect fertility and brain development, for example. Also animals can be affected by endocrine disruptors in the environment. A clear example is the feminization of male fish swimming in water released by waste water treatment plants.

With the European funding, the Department Environment & Health will appoint four PhD students and a technician for the three projects. Also, several faculty staff members will work on the projects:

The project of Van Duursen, FREIA, focuses on female reproduction. Van Duursen is coordinator of the FREIA project, which receives 6.1 million euros funding in total. The consortium investigates the mechanisms by which endocrine disruptors can affect a woman’s fertility. “There is surprisingly limited knowledge on this issue. We will investigate how exposure to endocrine disruptors during different hormone-sensitive phases in a woman’s life, during fetal development, puberty, and adult stages, can ultimately affect her fertility.”

The main aim of this project is to develop human-relevant test methods to identify endocrine disruptors that can cause female reproductive toxicity. Research at the VU will focus on disruption of steroid hormone synthesis in the ovary.

Professor in Environmental Bioanalytical Chemistry Pim Leonards receives almost 930.000 euros for the ENDpoiNTs project. The ENDpoiNTs consortium develops a new test strategy to assess the effect endocrine disruptors on neurodevelopment.

The project aims to gain insight in the mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental toxicity: “Specifically, we will investigate the molecular mechanisms leading to neurodevelopmental toxicity by endocrine disruptors. There is not much known about these mechanisms.” ENDpoiNTs, coordinated by the Swedish Karolinska Institute and co-coordinated by the VU, receives 6.9 million euros funding from the EC.

Almost 700.000 euros from the ATHENA project (total 6.5 million euro) will go to Associate Professor Timo Hamers. ATHENA focuses on thyroid hormones, which play a key role in prenatal brain development. Chemicals that disrupt thyroid hormone function during foetal development alter brain development with possible permanent effects on brain function later in life. 

Within the ATHENA project, coordinated by Brunel University in London, VU will collaborate with Dutch partner Erasmus MC in Rotterdam to develop new test methods to assess the effects of chemicals on the availability of thyroid hormones for the fetal brain. The research focuses on disruption of thyroid hormone transport across physiological barriers such as the placenta, blood-brain-barrier and blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier.

50 million euro
The EC spends around 50 million euros on eight different research projects. All projects, with a duration of five years, have started on January 1st of 2019. The ultimate goal of these eight projects is to improve identification of endocrine disruptors within regulatory frameworks in order to protect human and environmental health.