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Meet CEET Researcher Amita Bansal, PhD

The Community Outreach and Engagement Core is proud to highlight the achievements and contributions that CEET researchers have made to advance the field of environmental health sciences, and we are delighted to give them the opportunity to discuss their current research projects that address community health concerns.

Dr. Amita Bansal

Amita is a basic science enthusiast. After graduating with first class honours in biomedical science from University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland in 2009, Amita started her diabetes related journey as a PhD candidate in Professor Frank Bloomfield’s laboratory in University of Auckland, New Zealand. Here using a sheep model, she addressed whether preterm birth and exposure to neonatal hyperglycaemia alter the development and function of pancreatic islets. She discovered that preterm birth was associated with reduced ß-cell mass and increased ß-cell apoptosis, and lambs born preterm had a greater likelihood of developing impaired glucose tolerance in later life. Dr. Bansal’s PhD training earned her accolades, engendered an in-depth understanding of pancreatic development, and introduced her to the emerging field of developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). Notably, she began to appreciate that not only our adult life habits, but also the events that occur early in life modify our risk of later life metabolic diseases. Promptly after submitting her PhD thesis, Amita commenced Postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Professor Rebecca Simmons at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, USA.

Dr. Bansal’s postdoc research provided exposure to yet another exciting area of research- the endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) field. In her primary project, using a mouse model, Amita explored whether maternal exposure to a common environmental chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA), alters pancreatic ß-cell development and function across three generations. Her research was the first to show that maternal BPA exposure impairs ß-cell mitochondrial function as well as decreases ß-cell mass across two generations in mice. Currently, Amita is focusing on the mechanisms underlying these abnormal pancreatic phenotypes. She made the novel observation that BPA alters the immune system function in islets of the first and second-generation offspring. Dr. Bansal recently proposed the emerging role of the immune system in mediating the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals on metabolic health in a review article published in Endocrinology.

At Penn, Amita has learned cutting edge research techniques including skills for epigenetic and RNA sequencing, and assessment of mitochondrial respiration using oroboros, cytokines/chemokines levels via Luminex and single cell analysis by flow cytometry to understand various aspects of islet development and function. Penn’s extensive collaborative network with experts from various disciplines such as endocrinology, epigenetics, immunology, pathology, and bioinformatics has been a fundamental tool for her growth and learning. She hopes to utilize these scientific skills to make ground-breaking discoveries and provide new evidence to unravel the mysterious mechanisms by which early life exposures such as exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, poor nutrition, or growth restriction in utero impact our later life health and health of our future generations.

How does your research contribute to the CEET? I have received a pilot grant from the NIH P30 Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology that is focused on the effects of BPA on the pancreatic immune system. Using these funds, I have developed a technique to isolate single cell suspension of immune cells from the whole pancreas to identify distinct immune cell populations by flow cytometry.

I have instituted multiple collaborative projects. Two such efforts involve my contribution in generating ideas and data for the intrauterine growth restriction model in Dr. Simmons’ laboratory, and for the BPA and phthalate projects in the laboratory of Dr. Marisa Bartolomei. I also work with Dr. Sara Pinney to explore the effects of BPA exposure on the transcriptome and epigenome of human amniocytes. I am also interested in elucidating the transgenerational effects of paternal BPA exposure; therefore, I collaborate with a fellow postdoc in the Simmons lab who studies paternal BPA exposure. Together we have uncovered that an in utero paternal exposure to BPA is associated with sex-specific effects on metabolic health of the first generation offspring, such that fathers who were exposed to BPA in utero transmitted the changes to their daughters only i.e. the first generation female offspring were affected. We also observed that paternal exposure to BPA in adult life does not alter the metabolic health of either male or female progeny- suggesting the importance of exposure during early life v.s. later life. We are currently working on a manuscript describing these exciting new shreds of evidence.

What community health concerns does your research address? My research confronts concerns about endocrine disruption from substances in our environment. To a very common chemical that we’re all exposed too. Bisphenol A, BPA is a plasticizer that’s found in almost anything. We know everyone is exposed to BPA through what we eat drink and touch and we’re trying to understand how this chemical exposure affects multiple generations. The findings support the hypothesis that the exposure to these chemicals is concerning and increasing the risk of metabolic ill health. We should try to minimize this exposure as often as possible, by not eating BPA products washing hands and food as often as possible.

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