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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

UMass: Cross-disciplinary Research Examines Fertility Impacts of Male Environmental Exposure

A cross-disciplinary team of scientists, led by University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences environmental epigeneticist Dr. Richard Pilsner, will use a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to expand research into the impact of phthalate exposure on male fertility. The grant is part of the NIEHS initiative known as ViCTER (Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research). The program aims to stimulate unconventional partnerships among environmental health scientists in an effort to accelerate breakthroughs in research.

The new award’s co-investigators are Dr. Pablo Visconti, a UMass Amherst professor of veterinary and animal sciences, and Dr. Sarah Kimmins, associate professor and Canada research chair in epigenetics, reproduction and development at McGill University in Montreal.

The new grant amplifies Dr. Pilsner’s ongoing research into the influence of phthalate exposure on sperm epigenetics and embryo development, which is supported by two other NIEHS grants totaling $5 million. The epigenome represents the chemical changes to DNA and histone proteins that affect gene expression and can be passed on to offspring but don’t change the DNA sequence.

“We’ll be able to look at all three epigenetic mechanisms – DNA methylation, histone modifications and small noncoding RNA regulation – to build a roadmap, or epigenetic profile, of how phthalates are influencing sperm epigenetics and subsequently influencing reproductive success,” Dr. Pilsner says. “Taken together, our ViCTER consortium will provide a paternal perspective on reproductive health with the overarching outcome to provide better preconception advising and/or diagnostics for couples.”

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