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Could pollution increase the risk of diabetes in embryos?

New research has found that early exposure to environmental pollution could lead to diabetes later in life

Exposure to PFAS chemicals increases the presence of fructosamine, a clinical indicator for diabetes in humans
Exposure to PFAS chemicals increases the presence of fructosamine, a clinical indicator for diabetes in humans (Photo by Julia Koblitz, Unsplash)

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The School of Public Health and Health Sciences' Alicia Timme-Laragy, an associate professor, studies the effects of early life exposures to two common per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) chemicals, which are present in waterproof and nonstick household products as well as the PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), on the developing pancreas. These so-called "forever chemicals" have contaminated drinking water all around the world and take decades to degrade in the environment.

According to Timme-Laragy, "many people are actively working to determine what the long-term health ramifications of these substances are." We're attempting to broaden our understanding of what these substances do, and I believe that our model and experimental procedures provide us with a very good chance to do so.

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Transgenic zebrafish are used by Timme-Laragy and her research team to examine the effects of these hazardous chemicals on embryonic development. John Clark, a professor of environmental toxicology in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (VASCI) at UMass, is also a member of the team.

In living, translucent zebrafish embryos, "we are able to observe in real-time the effects on a very small group of cells," she claims. It's an exceptional chance.

The study will expand on one of the important discoveries that showed oxidative stress brought on by chemical exposures causes abnormalities in the developing pancreatic islet, which contains beta cells (also known as -cells), which are in charge of producing, storing, and releasing insulin.

Timme-Laragy uses cutting-edge imaging techniques, such as confocal microscopy, to better understand these pathways and the functional implications of these anomalies.

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity, pancreatitis, and pancreatic malformations are all linked to pancreatic malformations, which affect an estimated 10% of the population. Preliminary findings have revealed higher amounts of fructosamine, a clinical indicator of diabetes in humans, in zebrafish exposed to PFAS chemicals.

According to Timme-Laragy, "it definitely signals to us that there are long-term repercussions for the development of diabetes later on." "We want to understand the mechanisms at work within the beta cells and study specific fish that have malformed islets to determine what the implications are for general growth and metabolism as well as the effects on glucose homeostasis."

Once they are familiar with the mechanisms taking place in the cells, the researchers eventually expect to be able to forecast the impacts of subsequent exposures. They also want to strengthen the body of research on the negative health impacts of PFAS chemicals. 

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