Rationale for the research area
In several countries of the industrialised world, the incidence of male reproductive disorders such as urogenital malformations and testicular cancer is rising. Sperm counts in young adult men are declining and are lower than WHO normal values in some areas of Switzerland and other countries. In addition, Switzerland has one of the highest testicular cancer rates in Europe.
Many compounds have been proposed to induce testicular dysfunction and subsequent reproductive disorders by disrupting endocrine functions, including phthalates, organoplatinum compounds, organotins, heavy metals, vinclozolin and other pesticides. However, the mechanisms of toxicity and the underlying molecular targets are largely unknown and need to be further characterised. Establishing mechanisms of action and discovering potential human biomarkers will aid human risk assessment.
The objective of this work is to identify key events of altered foetal steroid signalling, and to collect data on the current status of reproductive health of young men in Switzerland (incidence of infertility, urogenital malformations, testicular cancer). Linking mechanisms of altered foetal steroid signalling to epidemiological data will enable the identification of potential human biomarkers of exposure and effect, and thus contribute to human risk assessment and early identification of new male reproductive toxicants.
The potential contribution of environmental chemicals to endocrine modulation in exposed humans and the subsequent impairment of fertility is one of the most intensely, and controversially, discussed questions in contemporary human toxicology research. The work will support regulatory authorities by developing scientific expertise which will contribute to national and international efforts in addressing a potential human health problem of major public concern.