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Reproductive Health in a Changing World - effects of environmental contamination & climate change

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    Osadchaya Olga/Shutterstock

NOVA PhD course of 2 ECTS, organised by Stefan Björkman, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki.
Course dates and location: 7-11 Oct. 2019, in Helsinki, Finland.

Course Description
Global emission of environmental pollutants such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and heavy metals have increased dramatically. Furthermore, climate warming, one of the main features of global change, accelerated the volatilisation process of environmental pollutant and increased their amount in the environment. Concurrent, there has been a decrease in the age of onset of puberty and fertility parameters as well as an increase in diseases, such as testicular cancer, and developmental abnormalities of the urogenital tract in humans. These trends have been observed also in companion animals such as dogs and cats. Causality between increased environmental pollutant and decreased reproductive health through endocrine disruption has been shown and has been supported by experiments with laboratory and farm animals and from field studies of wildlife.

Course Content
This course will give an overview about environmental contamination and air pollution, sources of contaminants and interaction with climate change. Present exposure levels, bioaccumulation in the food chain, potential health effects and assessment / measurement of these contaminants will be highlighted (Course Day 1). Furthermore, the concept of endocrine disruption and the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on reproductive health in women and men as well as effects on embryonic development during pregnancy will be discussed (Course day 2). The concept of One Health, the connection between human health to the health of animals and environment, will be introduced using the example of arctic One Health (Course day 3). The arctic environment can be regarded as a sink for environmental pollutants and therefore a perfect example. Furthermore, studies on the effects of EDCs on reproductive health will be reviewed in several animal species. These animal species have been either used as sentinel models (e.g. dog, cat) or experimental models (e.g. farm and laboratory animals) for the human. These reviews will be designed to update current understanding on the impact of EDCs on reproductive development and health and to discuss the relevance of data obtained from these studies to other species, including humans. The relative advantages and disadvantages of alternative animal models will be debated and the work placed into perspective in relation to the global problem of environmental contamination with EDCs (Course day 4 – 5).

Programme Outline
Day 1: Sessions on air quality and pollution, and environmental contaminants in food products

Day 2: Session on endocrine disruption and reproductive health problems in men and women, and human fetal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) during pregnancy

Day 3: Peer-group work and sessions on one Health in the artic and effects of EDCs on reproductive health of arctic animals (polar bears, seals, whales, seabirds, sled dogs, arctic foxes)

Day 4: Sessions on laboratory animal (rodents), in vitro and farm animal models (pigs, ruminants) used to study effects of EDCs on reproductive health

Day 5. Session on sentinel animal models (minks, dogs, cats) used to study effects of EDCs in reproductive health and peer-group work

All sessions consist of 2x 45 min lectures and 1 h of discussion / workshop

For more details, see course schedule.

Aims of the Course

  • To provide the students an overview about sampling and assessment strategies of different environmental contaminants in air and food products, about the source of these contaminants and how these contaminants affect reproductive health, as well as applicable approaches and tools for researching the effects of these environmental contaminants on reproductive health (including genetic research and molecular diagnostics)
  • To review research that has been conducted on certain wildlife animals (polar bear, minks, foxes), and animals used as experimental models (pigs, ruminants, maybe laboratory animals) as well as sentinel models (dogs, cats) to study effects of environmental disrupting chemicals in the context of One Health

Learning outcomes

  • Students will know about the major environmental contaminants (ECs) in air and food products
  • Students will know how to measure and assess these ECs
  • Students will know how these ECs affect reproductive health
  • Students will know about the newest methods and tools used in research of reproductive health
  • Students will know about  the major studies conducted in wildlife and experimental animals and animals used as sentinel models
  • Students will know how to interpret results of the aforementioned studies in the context of One Health
  • Students will be able to plan their own studies in this field of research

Pedagogical Approach, Pre-/post-campus Assignment

  • Pre-assignment: Students will get 1 paper (original research article or review article) for each session which they need to read before the course. Based on the papers, students are supposed to write a short learning diary (2 pages). Learning diary will serve as a base for the discussions / workshops in each session
  • Course: Each course day has 1-2 sessions. Each session consist of 2 x 45min lectures and 1h discussion / workshop. Furthermore, there are 2 session for peer-group work. Students will be assigned into peer-group and during these sessions the groups will work on the post-assignment.
  • Post-assignment: Peer groups need to hand in a short research plan. Students can freely choose a certain environmental contaminant and a certain reproductive health trait and based on this they need to come up with a plan on how to study the effect of this contaminant on this trait.

Estimated Workload

  • Pre-assignment: 15h = 0.5 ECTS
  • Lectures / Discussions / workshop during the course: 30h = 1 ECTS
  • Peer-group work during the course / Post-assignment: 15h = 0.5 ECTS

Prerequisite Knowledge
Applicants should be PhD students, qualified master/licentiate students or graduated veterinarians enrolled in a residency programme. Applications should have basic knowledge and reproduction and reproductive endocrinology as well as basic knowledge on how to conduct research.

Evaluation Elements
Completed assignments and course participation: Yes/No

Admission and Costs
Admission for NOVA courses is handled by the course organiser/ the NOVA member institution organising the course. Please see the links in the margin for more information.

The course is free of charge for students from the NOVA and BOVA university networks as well as for students outside these networks working at an institution of higher education. Students include PhD/Licentiate students plus qualified master's students. Veterinary students enrolled in residency programmes are treated on a par with veterinary PhD students. For participants from the industry, the course fee is 500€. Accommodation is not included. More information

Apply here


Published 9. May 2019 - 13:26 - Updated 8. August 2019 - 8:31

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