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Michigan study looks at impacts of PFAS on offspring

Chris Anton - stock.adobe.com

A groundbreaking report from a team of Wayne State University researchers revealed fathers pass down more than genetics to their children. They are also potentially sharing the impact of toxins.

The study found when adult male mice are exposed to a mix of old and new PFAS chemicals, it alters their sperm and affects the genes in their offspring's liver and fat. The substances have been widely used since the 1940s in consumer projects and industry.

Dr. Michael Petriello, toxicologist and assistant professor of environmental health sciences and pharmacology at Wayne State, worked on the study and said the results have been surprising.

"It was a such an interesting collaboration that I didn't know what to expect, because I had never done anything looking at paternal exposures," Petriello observed. "Every time that we expose these male mice, we see something - whether it's in the male themselves, or their offspring."

Studies show PFAS exposure also causes less testosterone in male rats and more estradiol, a female sex hormone. PFAS are a large group of synthetic chemicals resistant to oil, water and heat, giving them the nickname "forever chemicals."

Dr. Richard Pilsner, OB/GYN and professor of human growth and development at Wayne State, who co-authored the report, said while women often focus on their health before trying to become pregnant, planning is important for men too, and the three months before conception are most critical.

"During that period, it's very good to try and avoid environmental exposures and reduce your exposure to different factors that may negatively influence those sperm epigenetic patterns," Pilsner recommended.

DruAnne Maxwell, a doctoral student at Wayne State and co-author of the report, said she is grateful to Professors Pilsner and Petriello for what she called a revolutionary opportunity.

"PFAS, there's not a lot known about it, especially when it comes to reproductive science," Maxwell pointed out. "There's not a lot of emphasis on male contribution, and so we're trying to, like, turn the tides and show people that men do matter."

The team said more research is needed to understand how PFAS exposure before conception affects future generations.

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