Dr. John Richburg, associate professor of pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a five-year $1.5 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study the adverse effects of environmental toxicants on male fertility and disease.
Richburg is investigating a class of compounds, called phthalates, used in the manufacturing of plastics and other common consumer products.
"Exposure to low levels of phthalates during the fetal period of testicular development may cause testicular cancer or infertility later in adult life," Richburg said.
Despite the association of exposure to these agents and infertility, very little is known of the mechanisms by which they act on the male reproductive system.
"If we can understand the underlying mechanisms at the molecular and cellular level that account for the effects of toxic compounds, then we can develop more effective strategies to prevent disease and infertility," Richburg said.
Richburg's lab at the university is internationally recognized for its work on revealing the molecular mechanisms that regulate cell death in the testis and the influence that environmental chemicals have on these processes.
Previous studies conducted by Richburg and funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation also have investigated the mechanisms that underlie the long-lasting infertility seen in some men after cancer chemotherapy, an effect that is particularly devastating in men in their prime reproductive years.
The insights gained from this research is expected to allow for the development of a clinical treatment that will effectively treat the cancer while sparing the fertility and post-treatment quality of life for these young men.
As head of the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology, which oversees the college's Center for Molecular and Cellular Toxicology, Richburg also is recipient of a recent five-year $1.2 million training grant from NIH. The money will be used to train four pre-doctoral and two post-doctoral students in toxicology and environmental health-related biomedical research.
"There exists a continuing need at the national level for highly trained researchers with a background in current concepts and problems in toxicology in order to ensure the health and safety of the public from chemicals found in the environment." Richburg said.