Research Briefs

Apr 20, 2016, 09:23 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
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Ramkumar Menon, PhD,
assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has found that higher concentrations of Bisphenol A, or BPA, the common plastics chemical and environmental pollutant, in a pregnant woman’s blood may be a contributing factor in preterm births. The UTMB study found that pregnant women with higher levels of BPA in their blood are more likely to deliver their babies early compared to women with lower levels of BPA. The investigators analyzed blood samples from pregnant women and from the amniotic fluid of the fetus. BPA is used in the construction and coatings of food containers, and its release into food is increased by microwave or other heat sources. It is structurally similar to the female hormone estrogen and binds to estrogen receptors within the body, including those responsible for inflammation. Abnormal inflammation increases the risk of a number of pregnancy complications, including water breaking early and preterm birth. This is the first study to investigate the role of BPA blood levels on risk of preterm birth and suggests that a better understanding of how BPA may alter maternal physiology is needed to minimize the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. The team is currently conducting studies using cells from pregnant women’s uteruses and fetal membranes to document these molecular pathways and identify potential targets for intervention. The study was published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine.

MD/PhD student Aaron Gray has found that women who take birth control pills, which lessen and stabilize estrogen levels, are less likely to suffer serious knee injuries. The study found that young women between 15 and19 with an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, knee injury who were taking birth control pills were less likely to need corrective surgery than women of the same age with ACL injuries who did not use birth control pills. Damage to this ligament is a serious athletic injury that can be career altering and lead to lifelong issues with knee instability, altered walking gait and early-onset arthritis. Researchers have proposed that the female hormone estrogen makes women more vulnerable to ACL injury by weakening this ligament. A previous investigation found that more ACL injuries in women occur during the points of their menstrual cycle when estrogen levels are high. Birth control pills help maintain lower and more consistent levels of estrogen, which may prevent periodic ACL weakness. UTMB researchers questioned whether oral contraceptive use protected against ACL injuries that require surgery in women. They found that women between 15 and 19 in need of ACL reconstructive surgery were 22 percent less likely to be using the birth control pill than non-injured women of the same age. The findings are available in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Tasnee Chonmaitree, professor of Pediatrics, has found that rates of ear infections during a baby’s first year have declined from the late1980s and 1990s; the research suggests that higher rates of breastfeeding, use of vaccinations and lower rates of smoking may be the major contributors. The rates of ear infection dropped from 18 percent to 6 percent in 3-month-olds, from 39 percent to 23 percent in 6-month-olds and from 62 percent to 46 percent in 1-year-olds. The research showed that frequent upper respiratory infections, presence of bacteria in the nose, and lack of breastfeeding are major risk factors for ear infections. In addition, prolonged breastfeeding was associated with significant reductions in both colds and ear infections, which are a common complication of the cold. It is likely that medical interventions in the past few decades, such as the use of pneumonia and flu vaccines and decreased smoking, helped reduce ear infection incidences. The study was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

Compiled from press releases written by Donna Ramirez. Find out more at www.utmb.edu/newsroom.