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Liping Feng, MD, Awarded Funding To Study Effects of PFBS Exposure on Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes/Fetal Development

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Liping Feng, MD, is the recipient of a $523,397 International Research Scientist Development Award through the Fogarty International Center (FIC)/ National Institutes of Health (NIH.  

Through this award, Dr. Feng will study perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS), a new chemical widely used in industrial and household products with toxic properties.

“The scientific aims of this proposal are based on the toxicity of PFBS and our preliminary findings that exposure to PFBS can lead to pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) and altered maternal and fetal thyroid hormone levels in a Shanghai Birth Cohort (SBC) led by my primary mentor, Dr. Jun Jim Zhang,” stated Dr. Feng in her abstract.

The abstract also noted the following:

  • The prevalence of PIH (~10%) is high in China, and PIH-related complications are still threatening maternal and fetal life and health worldwide due to the lack of efficient therapeutic methods.
  • Epidemiology studies have pointed to a thyroid-related disease outbreak in China, especially women are at higher risk of developing hypothyroidism (~17%). Proper thyroid hormone levels are critical for fetal growth and maintaining pregnancy.
  • Environmental exposures including PFBS can contribute to these adverse outcomes.

“…Therefore, the major aim of this proposal is to investigate the effect of maternal exposure to PFBS on the risk of PIH and maternal and cord blood levels of thyroid hormones in Shanghai. We also propose to explore the underline mechanisms of these findings. A key innovation is that we will answer critical and novel epidemiological and biological research questions,” noted Dr. Feng. “…This project will take advantage of the available infrastructure in Shanghai through the highly respected LMIC research institution that will enable me to establish a pregnancy cohort of 6,500-10,000 women and follow the newborns up to two years at a cost effective efficient manner. This grant, beyond providing the necessary training to me to be established as an independent international researcher, will address important gaps in evidence on the effects of PFBS exposure on maternal and child health, and will provide a resource for future studies.”

Dr. Feng has devoted her entire career to improve pregnancy outcomes through innovative research. She conducts both basic science/laboratory research and participates in clinical studies. Her laboratory has focused on understanding the mechanisms of preterm birth, an important cause of perinatal and neonates' mortality and morbidity. Currently, she has four lines of investigation focused on the roles of progesterone receptors, inflammation/infection, genetic variation, and environmental exposure in preterm birth. These works are translated then to the clinical care of women through studies dedicated to identify risk factors and novel biomarkers for early prediction and prevention of preterm birth.

Dr. Feng serves as a director and instructor for Duke Molecular Bio Techniques Workshop. This two-credit workshop designed to train clinical fellows in basic laboratory techniques. This workshop attracts participants from around the country and is now part of the Duke Clinical Research Training Master's Program. In addition, Dr. Feng has established an international collaboration in global women's health.

Further information about Dr. Feng is available at the Duke Global Health Institute.