by Jerry Heindel, Director, Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategies (HEEDS)
For 25 years I worked as a Scientific Program Administrator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). My job focus was to stimulate and fund research into the effects of endocrine disruptors on human health. I became passionate about helping the endocrine disruptor field grow and improve its impact on human health. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals designed for a specific purpose like a pesticide or can lining, but, just like many drugs, have side effects. The side effects of EDCs are that that they interfere with the action of hormones, which can lead to a variety of diseases. Indeed, they have been shown to play important roles in the increases in cancer, diabetes, obesity, reproductive disorders (including infertility), immune dysfunction, cardiovascular disease, learning and behavioral problems (including IQ loss), and neurodegenerative diseases.
When I retired, I wanted to continue to help in the EDC field, so I held a brainstorming meeting of about 30 EDC scientists in Raleigh, North Carolina. The discussion made it clear that the EDC field suffered because there was no society specifically focused on fostering EDC research, mentoring the next generation of scientists, or stimulating coordination, communication, and collaboration throughout the field. While there was not enthusiasm for starting a new society, the idea of a website to help the EDC field came up. A website by scientists for scientists. Several of us contributed a dollar to get the name, Healthy Environment and Endocrine Disruptor Strategies, HEEDS.org, for the new website.
It took more than a year to define the goals for the website and develop its vision, mission, and values statements. Because many EDC scientists work with Commonweal and everyone knew of its reputation as a leader in communication, science, and education, it was a logical choice to ask to be a member of the Commonweal program. We are proud to be a part of the Commonweal suite of programs.
The HEEDS.org website debuted in March 2019. Sarah Howard, who also coordinates another Commonweal program, Diabetes and Environment, works with me to keep the website up to date and to coordinate the many programs and committees we have developed. We are a great team!
HEEDS.org is not just a website but also a living program. HEEDS focuses on improving communication, coordination, and collaboration among scientists working on EDCs. HEEDS also aims to educate policy makers, regulatory agencies, physicians, and the general public about the health effects of EDCs.
An international advisory board of experts in the EDC field provides general oversight. We also have developed a mentoring advisory committee, and an Elders Group (a group of 18 pioneering senior scientists in the EDC field) that meet monthly to provide guidance on HEEDS activities. Working with experts and trainees in the field and seeing their devotion to improving health is such a rewarding experience and keeps us dedicated to do more.
We have started a local North Carolina EDC-focused group called EDC-NC which is composed of about 100 local EDC researchers, and we have had two scientific meetings which brought over 150 scientists together for a day of science and mentoring. One of our goals is to develop local EDC groups across the globe.
We work closely with other Commonweal program, including the Biomonitoring Resource Center and the Collaborative on Health and Environment (CHE). Together with these programs and the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) in Europe, we organize monthly webinars featuring EDC scientists discussing their research. All are welcome to participate in these free webinars, recordings are available online here.
To keep our audience up to date with EDC science, we publish HEEDS News, a monthly newsletter for the latest in EDC-related policy and event updates, the EDC Science Weekly, a weekly compilation of new science on EDCs, and are active on twitter @HEEDSorg.
Our Mentoring Committee is actively developing programs for early-career researchers, to better prepare them for a career in the EDC field. For example, we organize the Young EDC Scientists Showcase (YESS) webinars featuring early-career researchers, have a YouTube channel with training videos from experts in the field, sponsor the annual Lou Guilette Jr. Outstanding Young Investigator Award, and provide monetary support for trainee attendance at scientific conferences (when they resume). We are also working with Dr. Pat Hunt of Washington State University to develop a hands-on training course on EDCs at Woods Hole.
In case that’s not enough, we also write and coordinate reviews of EDCs and their effects on health, and host the HEEDS Consortium, an online directory of EDC scientists.
As we approach our second anniversary, we look forward to expanding our activities and improving our impact on the EDC field. We welcome you to take advantage of our resources and become familiar with EDC science, a fascinating field.