Pesticide exposure during pregnancy - Prize of best conference presentation for Emilie Hardy

2017 - 07 - 28

Pesticide exposure during pregnancy - Prize of best conference presentation for Emilie Hardy

Emilie Hardy, research engineer at the Human Biomonitoring Research Unit at LIH’s Department of Population Health was awarded the prize of the best oral presentation at the annually held international meeting of the Society of Hair Testing. She presented recent results on the evaluation of exposure of pregnant women to pesticides measured with hair samples.  

The 22nd edition of the meeting of the Society of Hair Testing (SoHT) took place in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, from 12th to 14th June 2017. The society, founded in 1995 and including members from more than 35 different countries, promotes research in hair testing technologies for forensic and clinical applications. The meeting hosted numerous senior and young scientists specialised in the analysis of different organic compounds in hair. Whereas the largest part of this scientific community works on the detection of medical and illicit drugs, Emilie and the other members of the Human Biomonitoring Research Unit focus their research on the quantification of pesticides and other environmental pollutants in hair.

In contrast to blood and urine samples, hair samples allow to get data on long-term exposure to chemicals. One centimetre of a hair strand contains information on one month of exposure. Emilie’s project aimed to monitor the cumulative exposure of pregnant women to different pesticides by analysing hair samples collected shortly after delivery. This project is of high relevance for public health as several pesticides are suspected to have adverse health effects on the child, such as prematurity, increased risk of congenital malformation, impairment in neurodevelopment, or to act as endocrine disruptors interfering with the hormone system of the mother and the foetus.

During the meeting, Emilie presented the methodology and results of the project she worked on together with co-workers from the unit as well as collaborators from INSERM, Rennes, France. Hair strands from more than 300 subjects were collected in French maternities from a cohort for a large health study. Using advanced methods of analytical chemistry allowing to discriminate between 140 components from different chemical classes of pesticides, she found that the median number of different chemicals detected in the hair samples was 43, the minimum being 25 and the maximum 65. The most frequently detected pesticides were organochlorines, organophosphorus compounds, pyrethroids (insecticides) and acidic herbicides. The researchers were even able to observe inter-trimester differences in the exposure when segmenting the hair in three parts representing the hair growth during the three trimesters of pregnancy.

Emilie is proud of the award received for the best oral presentation of the meeting. ‘It is a great reward, especially because this was the first time that I gave a talk in front of a large audience of experts’, she states. The prize reflects the scientific maturity and oratorical qualities of the scientist as well as the relevance of the research topic.