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07 March 2024

European consortium launches toxicology study to benefit newborn health

King’s is one of fourteen partners in a consortium on the European HYPIEND project, to study how exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) impacts human physiology, particularly on the hormonal system during pregnancy, the first 18 months of a baby’s life and pre-puberty.

Little girl and mother

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found in everyday products like cosmetics, food, drink and cleaning products, but these can affect the operation of the hormonal system, especially during pregnancy, infancy and childhood.

The project will specifically analyse their impact on the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, a structure where the central nervous system and the endocrine system converge and which regulates hormones which coordinate body functions including somatic growth, lactation and coping with stress.

Academics from King's are involved in the discovery aspect of the project. Dr Marika Charalambous's group studies metabolism and the placenta, making it particularly useful for this project.

“We know that these chemicals, from petrochemicals released through air pollution to the chemicals in food packaging can affect the human body, but how much? This project has several key questions – how do combinations of EDCs act together to affect us? We wish to know to what extent and how EDCs enter our cells to affect physiology, particularly during development and in the brain.”

Dr Marika Charalambous, School Academic Lead (Research & Impact) and Reader in Developmental Epigenetics at King’s
HYPIEND school children

Coordinated by the Eurecat technology centre and with a budget of €7 million, the five-year project aims to run interventions to minimise exposure to these chemicals, such as offering plastic-free canteens and raising awareness of EDCs among parents and children.

Two studies will be conducted, firstly using workshops and a mobile app to lessen exposure to endocrine disruptors in pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children up to 18 months after birth.

The second study will involve 6-7-year-old children and their tutors and will consist of an intervention in primary schools to assess the effectiveness in reducing levels of endocrine disruptors in the children’s urine and increasing their parents’ knowledge of these chemicals.

Chiara Baudracco, Project Coordinator, said: “Endocrine disruptors are found in everyday products including personal care products and cosmetics, food, beverages and cleaning products. Over five years HYPIEND will examine the impact of these chemicals through a holistic approach.

“This is a promising Horizon Europe project due to its scientific and biotechnological relevance. The main outcomes will be shared at the widest and highest level owing to the collaboration we will have as coordinators with other European projects funded by the European Commission under the same call.”

“In the HYPIEND project, we will develop preclinical models to assess how well EDC combinations cross the placental barrier – a crucial organ that protects the developing baby from maternal exposure to a harsh environment. This will help us to understand which EDCs have the potential to have intergenerational impacts on human health.”

Dr Marika Charalambous, School Academic Lead (Research & Impact) and Reader in Developmental Epigenetics at King’s

The consortium aims for the HYPIEND project's results to inform them to develop new screening methods for endocrine disruptors and to create new public health strategies to minimise the exposure of vulnerable populations.

In this story

Marika  Charalambous

School Academic Lead (Research & Impact)