142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition

Annual Meeting Recordings are now available for purchase

Epiprecaution: Ethical implications of epigenetics in decision making

142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition (November 15 - November 19, 2014): http://www.apha.org/events-and-meetings/annual
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 : 1:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Steven Gilbert, PhD, DABT , Institute of Neurotoxicology & Neurological Disorders, Seattle, WA
We have tremendous knowledge about the adverse health and environmental effects of chemicals gained from research and experience.  Recent advances in our understanding of how DNA expression can be modified indicates that subtle changes are possible beyond changing the DNA sequence.  This is now referred to as “epigenetics” in which gene expression is silenced or suppressed by DNA methylation or histone deacetylation, but without altering the sequence of the silenced genes. The power and subtlety of epigenetic changes can be passed to the next generation, raising concerns about transgenerational effects.  Recent studies have documented that epigenetic changes can occur as the result of exposure to environmental contaminates such as cigarette smoke, arsenic, alcohol, benzene, dioxin, phthalates, BPA, DES, as well other hazards.  Interestingly, other studies indicate that nutrition, methy content of diet, intake of folic acid and vitamins or even social and maternal behavior toward the offspring have epigenetic consequences.  In rodents, maternal grooming or lack of grooming results in significant epigenetic changes. Given the recent data from epigenetic studies it is appropriate to consider the ethical implications of epigenetics. Toxicological assessment will need to incorporate a chemicals ability to cause epigenetic changes into routine evaluation.  Risk assessment will need to include epigenetic changes. But there will also be a need to ensure that there is no discrimination based on an epigenetic evaluation. Our expanding appreciation of the influence of development on epigenetics will have profound effect on our ethical thinking and evaluation of potential adverse effects.  The knowledge that environmental stress or maternal care can result in epigenetic changes means that it is not just enough to have a developmental environment free of chemical contaminants but there must be a nuturing and supportive environment during development. The concept of epigenetics provides the scientific and biological foundation for the necessity of “doing good”.  This concept is called “epiprecaution” to signify the need to move above and beyond preventing exposures to harmful material but to one that is nurturing and supportive. This presentation will explore the potential ethical implications of epigenetics in decision making to protect public health and preventing disease.

Learning Areas:

Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Define the concept of epiprecaution Describe the history and biology of epigenetics Explain how epigenetics will affect the decision making process for protecting health

Keyword(s): Ethics, Environmental Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Steven G. Gilbert, PhD, DABT is Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders (INND), and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington. His book, A Small Dose of Toxicology- The Health Effects of Common Chemicals was published in 2004 and the 2nd edition is free as an E-book (www.asmalldoseof.org, sgilbert@innd.org).
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.