ADVANTAGES

One direction that was highly prioritized by the Workshop on Exploring Environmental Effects on Stem Cells is investigation of stem cells that elucidate the limits of Windows of Susceptibility (WOS), the concept that individuals are more at risk from exposure at certain points in the lifelong developmental timeline. There is compelling evidence for WOS, for example, from studies of female survivors of the Hiroshima atom bomb who were much more likely to develop breast cancer as adults if they were in pre-pubertal or pubertal periods at the time of the explosion. WOS periods likely exist in both genders and may include in utero, puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, all periods in which stem cells exist and are likely targets for hormonal imbalance and hormone-mimicking substances. Novel studies are needed to address exposures and mechanisms by which stem cell fate and function may become altered and the subsequent role in WOS: why WOS exists, its limits, and the pathways by which environmental chemical exposures might initiate cells and tissues for disorders. Studies of exposure – response in stem cells would be expected to lead to improved definition and understanding of WOS. However, investigations have rarely explored this relationship with regard to fate and lineage, population composition, tissue morphology, epigenetics, or DNA repair. These parameters need to be illuminated in order to produce a comprehensive model of the role of stem cells in WOS that will translate into improved understanding of disease risk over the lifespan of an individual.

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