Professor Eileen McLaughlin has completed a three-year study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, into the effect of three chemicals found in cigarettes on ovarian development and egg fertilisation.
“Our laboratory work has shown that exposure to these toxins by inhaling cigarette smoke during the early stages of life could lead to a reduction in the quality and number of eggs in females,” Professor McLaughlin said.
Professor McLaughlin’s research has been published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences and the Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.
She has applied for funding to study the effect that smoking while pregnant could have on fertility in later generations.
“It is widely accepted that smoking while pregnant is harmful to the foetus for many reasons.
“We believe that exposure to these toxins as a foetus dramatically reduces egg quality and quantity before birth and that this reduced fertility may be passed on to the next generation.
“If you translate this to humans, it means that if your grandmother smoked – either while pregnant with your mother or near her when she was a baby – you and possibly your children may be at risk of reduced fertility.”
More than one-third of pregnant Australian women under the age of 25 continue to smoke during pregnancy*. Premature ovarian failure (before the age of 40 years) is a major cause of female infertility, with up to four per cent of the worldwide female population affected**.
Professor McLaughlin works in the University’s Faculty of Science and Information Technology and the Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science. She researches in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Pregnancy and Reproduction Program.
* Australian Institute of Family Studies 2011
** Gynecological Endocrinology 2010
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.
For interviews contact: Tess Campbell, the University of Newcastle, 02 4921 8714 or 0439 624 521.