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UI Health Researcher finds direct evidence of early BPA exposure increases risk of adult cancer

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Early exposure to BPA (bisphenol A) - an additive commonly found in plastic water bottles and soup can liners - causes an increased cancer risk in an animal model of human prostate cancer, according to University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System researcher Gail Prins.

  "This is the first direct evidence that exposure to BPA during development, at the levels we see in our day-to-day environment, increases the risk for prostate cancer in human prostate tissue," said Prins, professor of physiology and director of the andrology laboratory in urology at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.

The increased risk can be traced to specific stem cells which become "sensitized" to estrogen early in development through exposure to BPA.  The prostate tissue's increased sensitivity to estrogen makes the development of cancer much more likely, according to Prins.

"Studies of expectant mothers in the U.S. showed that more than 95 percent of them had BPA in their urine, which means they recently ingested these compounds, " says Prins, whose work led to banning the sale of baby bottles and cups containing BPA in Chicago in 2009.

Previous studies by Prins and colleagues using rats showed that exposure to elevated estrogen or BPA during embryonic development increased the rate of prostate cancer later in life.  To determine if there was a link in humans, Prins developed a new animal model using human prostate stem cells implanted into mouse "hosts."

Signs of cancer developed in the human prostate tissue in a third of the mice fed BPA, as compared to only 12 percent in mice that had not been fed BPA.  If the stem cells were exposed to BPA before implantation and again during development, 45 percent showed signs of cancer.

"We believe that BPA actually reprograms the stem cells to be more sensitive to estrogen throughout life, leading to a life-long increased susceptibility for diseases including cancer," Prins says.
W.Y. Hu, G.B. Shi, D.P. Hu, R.B. van Breeman and A. Kajdacsy-Balla, of UI Health also contributed to the research.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Sciences RC2 ES01878 (ARRA Award) and R01 ES015584.

Contact: Sharon Parmet, 312.413.2695, sparmet@uic.edu