This cluster was launched on May 1st 2008

Scientists awarded €10M to explore environmental chemicals and reproductive health. An international collaboration has been given €10M to investigate the potential impact of chemicals and pollutants on reproductive health. This comprises three major studies (REEF, DEER, CONTAMED) examining what are known as endocrine disruptors – chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function. These are natural and man made substances – such as compounds produced naturally by plants and synthetic compounds used in plastics and pesticides, together with heavy metals - to which we are exposed every day and which can mimic or interfere with our hormones.

For more than 60 years there has been increasing concern over the impact of chemicals in the environment that may interfere with the development of the male and female baby in the womb. These chemicals are derived from a variety of industrial, commercial and agricultural sources and they have the potential to affect the development of the male and female reproductive system. In domestic and wildlife species there is considerable evidence that male and female reproductive development is affected by hormone-like chemicals prior to birth and that this affects reproductive function in the adult. There is also increasing evidence of this in the human, although the weight of evidence so far concerns male reproductive development. Furthermore, in humans, the incidence of some cancers, especially testicular and breast cancer is increased by exposure to these chemicals. Although less is known about the effects of environmental chemicals on the developing female fetus, the consequences for reproductive development in females may be greater than in males. For example, females exposed to chemicals in the womb may have reduced fertility, poorer health and, potentially, an earlier onset of menopause. Humans have evolved through millions of years of exposure to natural chemicals from plants, forest fires and volcanic activity, but what is new is the unparalleled numbers of synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to nowadays. Some of these are very difficult for the body to break down. The developing fetus is particularly sensitive to chemicals so what we hope to do is determine whether these are linked, to a greater or lesser extent, to our exposures to environmental chemicals, particularly in the light of declining sperm counts and an increase in both breast and testicular cancers.