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UAlbany Epidemiologist Awarded $176,489 from NIH to Study Effects of Perfluorinated Compounds on Older Adults

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

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Nonstick Pans

Vapors from nonstick pans are one source of exposure to perfluorinated compounds.

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 7, 2009) -- University at Albany School of Public Health researcher Edward Fitzgerald has received a $176,489 Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to examine the association between exposure to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and nervous system and thyroid function among older adults.  NIA is part of the National Institutes of Health.

PFCs are chemicals designed to make materials stain and stick resistant, including furniture fabrics and carpets, pizza boxes and microwave popcorn bags, and Teflon coating on pans.  PFCs do not easily break down and are found to exist for many years after contact.  Expanding upon existing research focused on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenylethers (PBDEs) and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs), this study will examine if PFCs cause subtle deficits in neuropsychological function, especially learning and memory.

The target population for this research is men and women between the ages of 55 and 74, a group considered at risk for age-related neurological deficiencies. Similar research is under way involving serum samples and data collected from a group of older adults to examine the neurological effects of PCBs, PBDEs and DLCs.  Utilizing the existing data, Fitzgerald will study the impact of PFCs, and evaluate whether persons with higher concentrations of these compounds in their serum have lower scores on tests of learning and memory, and on other measures of  neuropsychological function.

This is the first known project to examine how PFCs affect the nervous system and endocrine function in older adults and their potential interaction with PCBs, PBDEs and DLCs. It is a collaborative project involving epidemiologists, statisticians, chemists, psychologists and gerontologists.

"ôResearch on the role of exposure to environmental chemicals in the aging process is critically important, given the increasing number of older adults in the USA and the medical costs of treating age-related diseases," said Dean Philip Nasca of the School of Public Health.

"While numerous investigations have linked exposure to environmental contaminants to deficits of the developing nervous system in children, relatively few have examined whether older persons may also be at risk," said Fitzgerald, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School. "This study holds particular significance given the declines in memory and other cognitive functions that typically occur with increasing age."

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