NIH Awards R01 Grant to Dr. Feng and Pathology Team for PFAS Study

By Jamie Botta

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $3 million, five-year RO1 grant starting April 2023 to Liping Feng, MD, and her team to support their investigation of the effects of perinatal Poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure on immune response to vaccination during pregnancy and in offspring after birth through altered cellular immunity and gut microbiota. They will also examine the antibody transfer from the maternal compartment to offspring through the placenta and breast milk by disrupting endocrine signaling and antibody transfer pathways.

PFAS are a large group of man-made chemicals that are highly per-fluorinated compounds whose strong fluorine-carbon bonds make them very stable in the environment and resistant to degradation. Because of that attribute, they are commonly used in consumer products as stain/water/grease/ repellents in carpets, upholstery, clothing and nonstick surfaces, cosmetics, and fire fighter foams. Their contamination is considered to be a global public health crisis.

Scientists, journalists, and community members alike are calling for better understanding of PFAS contamination and how it impacts our health. Epidemiological studies, supported by findings from toxicological studies, provide strong evidence that humans exposed to the PFAS legacy compounds are at risk for immunosuppression, including reduced antibody response to vaccination in children. Notably, we lack relevant data assessing the effects of exposure to emerging PFAS chemicals or PFAS mixtures and immunotoxicity in early life such as during pregnancy and lactation.

Feng is an expert in reproductive toxicology, focusing on perinatal PFAS exposures and placental biology. She is Principal Investigator on the study, which is a collaboration with Herman Staats, PhD, an expert in immune responses to vaccinations; and Chelsea Landon, DVM, PhD. It will make significant contributions to fill the knowledge gap regarding the PFAS immunotoxicity during early life for policy makers and critical information for the cause and benefit of breastfeeding, especially in highly contaminated regions.