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Dr. Steven Verhaegen (expbio; prodmed) visits Queen’s University Belfast

Some of the staff and researchers associated with the PROTECTED Project. From left to right: Katie Austin (Project Manager), Mazia Amber (QUB ESR 13), Alana Cutliffe (QUB ESR1), Lisa Connolly (PI and Project Coordinator), Steven Verhaegen (NMBU researcher), Vittoria Mallia (Norwegian Veterinary Institute ESR10 on secondment to QUB), Oluwatobi Kolawole (QUB ESR4), Xie Yuling (QUB PhD student). Missing in the photograph is Jonathan McComb, a QUB PhD student investigating effects of EDs in prostate cancer cell lines.

Dr. Steven Verhaegen was invited to visit the research group of Dr. Lisa Connolly, Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, UK, between November 13 and 17th. Dr. Connolly is Project Coordinator for PROTECTED, a European Union’s Horizon 2020 funded Innovative Training Network (ITN) ( PROTECTED aims to develop expertise and protective capabilities against Endocrine Disruptors (EDs). EDs and their mixtures are a modern day health concern leading to failing ecological systems, poor agricultural production and health effects such as obesity, cancer and infertility. The ITN provides 15 individual, personalised PhD projects for Early Stage Researchers (ESRs).

NMBU is a partner in the project with Prof. Ropstad, Head Section of Experimental Biomedicine, as PI. The expertise on complex mixtures of environmental EDs, previously build up by this research group, forms a central pillar within PROTECTED. Dr. Verhaegen’s visit to QUB was aimed at discussing recent data generated in vivo and in vitro by the respective groups, and discuss new hypotheses for mode of actions of EDs in relation to adverse health outcomes, especially cancer and obesity The visit involved face-to-face meetings with the individual ESRs and other PhD students in the Connolly group. The group focusses on in vitro cell models and read-outs for estrogen, androgen, and glucocorticoid signalling, using reporter gene assays, and an advanced high content analysis platform. The latter has also been adapted to look at effects of EDs on adipocyte differentiation. Some recent observations of EDs affecting cellular morphology in this assay were discussed in detail with Ms. Xie Yuling, the PhD student focusing on the link between EDs and obesity. The Connolly group is also collaborating locally with Dr. Ian Mills, a researcher on prostate cancer at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at QUB. Thus visit also provided an opportunity to discuss possible links between EDs and prostate cancer. Dr. Mills has previously worked at Oslo University and still has ongoing collaborative projects there. It was felt this could be a great networking opportunity and might lead to future collaboration and future grant application concepts.

This visit will be followed up shortly, as Prof. Ropstad and Dr. Verhaegen, together with the NMBU ESRs, Maria Christou and Ajay Yadav are scheduled to attend the first annual PROTCTED ITN meeting being hosted at QUB on December 13 and 14th upcoming.