Associate professor Alicia Timme-Laragy of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences investigates the effects on the developing pancreas of two common per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) chemicals found in waterproof and nonstick household products, as well as PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). These so-called “forever chemicals” have polluted drinking water all around the world and take decades to breakdown in the environment.
According to Timme-Laragy, “many people are actively striving to determine what the long-term health repercussions of these chemicals are.”
We’re trying to extend our understanding of what these chemicals accomplish, and I feel our model and experimental approaches give us a high chance of succeeding. Timme-Laragy and her colleagues employ transgenic zebrafish to study the impact of these dangerous substances on embryonic development. John Clark, an environmental toxicology professor in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (VASCI) at UMass, is also on the team.
“We are able to monitor in real-time the impact on a very tiny set of cells” in live, transparent zebrafish embryos, she reports. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The study will build on one of the important discoveries, which demonstrated that oxidative stress caused by chemical exposure causes abnormalities in the developing pancreatic islet, which contains beta cells (also known as -cells), which are responsible for producing, storing, and releasing insulin.
Timme-Laragy employs cutting-edge imaging methods, including as confocal microscopy, to better comprehend these pathways and their functional consequences.
Pancreatic malformations are associated to type 1 and type 2 diabetes, obesity, pancreatitis, and pancreatic malformations, which afflict an estimated 10% of the population. Preliminary data show that zebrafish exposed to PFAS chemicals had greater levels of fructosamine, a clinical indication of diabetes in humans.
“It obviously communicates to us that there are long-term ramifications for the development of diabetes later on,” Timme-Laragy says. “We want to understand the mechanisms at action within the beta cells, and we want to research individual fish with malformed islets to see what the consequences are for general development and metabolism, as well as the impact on glucose homeostasis.”
Once they understand the mechanisms at work in the cells, the researchers hope to be able to predict the effects of futurenvironment exposures. They also seek to expand the corpus of knowledge on the harmful health effects of PFAS chemicals.