Dr Michelle Bellingham
- Lecturer (Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health & Comparative Medicine)
- Associate (School of Life Sciences)
- Associate (School of Veterinary Medicine)
I joined the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow as a lecturer in 2012. I received my PhD in Physiology in 2004 and completed a post-doctoral project in the Division of Immunology, Infection and Inflammation at the University of Glasgow, before joining Prof Neil Evans group as a post-doc in the Division of Cell Sciences at the University in 2007. For the past 11 years the focus of my research has been on determining the effects, and understanding the risks, of maternal exposure to low-level chemical mixtures on long-term offspring health where I have used both sheep and human models. My work integrates behavioural, hormonal, molecular biology and ‘omics approaches to understand the risks of environmental chemical exposure on mammalian physiology and I have widely published on the effects of maternal exposure to 'real-life' mixtures of chemicals (using sheep exposed to sludge-treated pastures) on offspring physiological systems, including effects on hypothalamic neurotransmitter systems, pituitary cell populations and changes in adult reproductive physiology. My research also focuses on the effects of human exposures during pregnancy, including the effects of maternal smoking, on programming adverse fetal development and long term health consequences in later life (in collaboration with Prof Paul Fowler, University of Aberdeen).
Have a look at this short YouTube video of my Research Interests.
Diversity and Inclusion Interests
As a member of the Institute’s Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (SAT) since 2013 and now Chair of this committee, I have been involved in, and successfully lead our Institute towards achieving our Silver Athena SWAN Award. Through this process, and my more recent membership of the College Gender Equality Committee (2015), I am acutely aware of many of the barriers people can face which can result in them feeling excluded or leaving research careers and we lose out on their valuable contributions. Our Institute, under my lead as Chair of the SAT, is paving the way towards tackling some of these barriers at the University of Glasgow, challenging unconscious biases to make science inclusive for people from all walks of life. I am passionate about contributing towards making science inclusive for all, engaging with all facets of the public about science- from schoolchildren for example at the Wellcome Trust and British Film Institute funded “What’s the Grey Matter with Gregory”, to adults at Glasgow Science Centre’s “Science Lates” events. We have made strong headway in our Institute initiatives to talk more about mental health and support staff wellbeing at work. I am enthusiastic about continuing in my role, alongside my research and public engagement, to help towards creating an inclusive culture where people feel they can participate and contribute.
Main Career Achievements
- Secured > £1M funding as PI/Co-I since 2012 including funding for several undergraduate summer students.
- Published 19 internationally recognised papers in high impact journals in current research field since 2010
- Chair of Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (Silver Department Award Holder)
- Institute Athena SWAN Champion – responsible for sharing good practice at other department Athena SWAN self-assessment team meetings
- Athena SWAN Panellist for Advance HE
- Member of College of Medical and Veterinary and Life Sciences Gender Equality Committee (Chaired by Head of College)
- Participant in Aurora Leadership in Higher Education Programme 2016/2017
- STEMM Ambassador with strong record of Public Engagement activity with Glasgow Science Centre and European Researchers Night Explorathon (2016 & 2017)
- Media Ambassador for Society for Endocrinology (2017-present)
- Member of Public Engagement Committee for Society for Endocrinology (January 2019)
- Member of Independent Scientific Review Panel for Breast Cancer UK Charity (2017-present)
- Grant reviewer for Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity
- Chair of Grants subcommittee and Trustee Board Member for British Society for Neuroendocrinology (2016-present)
- Principal Investigator (Glasgow) for Scottish Advanced Fetal Research (SAFeR) Glasgow Biobank in collaboration with University of Aberdeen, NHS Grampian and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
- Lead organiser of Annual Meeting of British Society for Neuroendocrinology Glasgow, 2016
Examining the potential risks of chemical exposure on animal and human health
There is now clear evidence that certain chemical pollutants in our environment can have negative consequences for the health and function of an ecosystem including the physiology of the animals which inhabit it. For both wildlife (aquatic and terrestrial), and humans, there is substantial evidence that environmental pollutants can affect the physiology and behaviour of an individual.
The main focus of my research is examining how exposure to chemicals in the environment, at different life stages, can affect long-term health and fitness. While my research has many applications I am particularly interested in effects of environmental chemical exposure on reproductive physiology.
In our modern world, humans are exposed to a plethora of environmental chemicals. For some chemicals, there is concern that they can mimic or block normal hormone function in the body. These chemicals have therefore be called 'endocrine disrupting chemicals' (EDCs). Although many epidemiologial studies in humans have suggested that exposure to EDCs during pregnancy may have implications for normal fetal development, the mecahnisms which may underly this are unclear and at present we lack the tools to answer definitive questions regarding the risks of chemical exposure during pregnancy in humans. This is because we are exposed to many chemicals everyday, not just a single chemical, which makes determining risk particularly difficult.
In 2011 the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) commissioned me to write a scientific impact paper on the subject of chemical exposure during pregnancy. After 18 month of rigorous review the paper was published and subsequent publication of a similar document by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 4 months later which has led to policy change in ante-natal care in the US with regards to advice to pregnant mothers on their chemical exposure during pregnancy. This area remains an important focus for my research. Click here to read the report.
Prenatal Programming of Adult Disease by Maternal Chemical Exposure
Mother as the 'gatekeeper' of her fetus
Based on human nutritional studies by the late David Barker in the 1990's, it is now widely accepted that maternal lifestyle and thus the uterine environment, plays a critical role in programming the long term health of the offspring. Barker's hypothesis, also known as the 'Fetal origins of Adult Disease Hypothesis' or 'Prenatal Programming of Adult Disease' describes how adverse conditions experienced during fetal and early post-natal life, can affect both the physiology and behaviour of an individual into adulthood.
In addition, recent studies have also shown that some environmental stimuli (maternal stress, maternal nutrition) in humans can cause epigenetic changeswhich are then passed on to offspring resulting in transgenerational effects. In addition, it has been long recognised that maternal exposure to certain chemical compounds during pregnancy, has the ability to affect the long term health of the offspring. In particular I am interestedin the effects of maternal exposure to toxicological agents found in our environment on the long term helath of exposed offspring.
Maternal Chemical Exposure - Cigarette Smoking during pregnancy and long term health effects in the offspring
In Scotland, approximately 20% of women still smoke during pregnancy. While it is widely recognised that smoking during pregnancy has numerous health effects on the fetus eg (preterm birth, low birthweight) in addition to these short term effects, the exposed fetus also has an increased risk for poor health outcomes which can manifest after birth eg increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and in later life eg childhood obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
The mechanisms underlying how smoking programmes these adverse long term health effects are still unclear.In collaboration with Profs Paul Fowler (University of Aberdeen) and Peter O'Shaughnessy (University of Glasgow). I am interested in determining whether the fetal adrenal gland may be involved in programming adverse health by maternal smoking. By determining how the smoking affects the human fetus, this may offer the potetnial to identify at risk indivisuals and develop ameliorative strategies so as to reduce these health risks.
Examining the effects of 'real life' exposure to environmental chemicals using sheep grazing sewage sludge treated pastures
There is a worrying increase in the incidence of disorders of reproductive system development and function in humans and an apparent increase in couples requiring assisted reproductive techniques. There is concern that exposure to certain chemicals in our environment which can mimic or block the normal function of the endocrine system may be implicated in causing reproductive problems. The focus of my research is to examine how exposure to these so-called 'endocrine disrupting compounds' (EDCs) in our environment, at different life stages, may affect reproductive function.
In particular my research, in collaboration with Professors Neil Evans, IBAHCM, Richard Sharpe (University of Edinburgh), Paul Fowler (University of Aberdeen) and colleagues at the James Hutton Institute (Aberdeen) has used a model of chemical exposure (sheep pastured on fields fertilised with sewage sludge) to examine effects of chemical exposure during pregnancy on the reproductive (and other) system. Sewage sludge contains a complex mixture of chemicals (Table 1) and offers a 'real-life' model to examine the effects of fetal exposure to exogenous compounds (Figure 1). More about the sewage sludge model which we have established at University of Glasgow's Research Farm at Cochno can be found by clicking the link.
In particular we have examined the effects on the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) neuroendocrine axis which regulates normal reproductive function as well as effects on the testes and ovaries of offsrpring exposed in utero. Chemical exposure rarely exists as one chemical, on the contrary humans are exposed to a complex mixture of chemcials which makes it very difficult to determine the potential effects.
Ecotoxicology and effects of pollution on animal physiology and ecosystem health
Pollution can be described as any chemical/substance which is found in places at higher levels than would be deemed 'natural' for that substance.
I am interested in how both aquatic and terrestrial pollutants can affect the physiology of animals which inhabit that place. In addition I am also interested in how animals may adapt to their polluted habitat and what consequences pollution could have on a particular ecosystem. Recent work in collaboration with Dr Willie Yeomans at the Clyde River Foundation has examined the histology of black-tailed trout which are found at heavily lead polluted areas in the Clyde to determine the cause of this phenotype.
Grants and Awards listed are those received whilst working with the University of Glasgow.
- Prenatal programming of adult disease by maternal smoking: the adrenal gland as a key player? (ISSF)
2013 - 2014
- Effects of GnRH blockade on neurocognitive and physiological endpoints.
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
2013 - 2016
- Does in-utero exposure to environmental chemicals affect kisspeptin reproductive regulatory systems in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in adulthood?
Society for Endocrinology
2011 - 2011
Undergraduate Research Project Supervision
International Internship Projects
August-December 2017 Jennifer Stichlberger, temasek Polytechnic (Singapore) "Effects of Gestational Exposure to a Real-Life Cocktail of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals on the Liver of One Day Old Lambs"
April-July 2016 Leo Truglia, IUT Lyon 1 (France)- Project 'Quantification of steroid hormones in eggs of songbirds from sites along an urban and rural gradient' (Co-Supervisor Dr Barbara Helm)
June-August 2015 Raphaelle Ollivier, ECOLE NATIONALE DE FORMATION AGRONOMIQUE ENFA (France) - 'Does exposure to chemicals in-utero affect the normal development of the reproductive system in male lambs?'
January-June 2013 Tan Shun Jing, Ngee Ann Polytechnic (Singapore)- project ‘Examining the effects of developmental exposure to environmental chemicals on the adult reproductive neuroendocrine axis in sheep’
January-June 2012 Oh Sin Wen, Valerie, Ngee Ann Polytechnic (Singapore)- ‘Does Prenatal Androgen Exposure Affects the Expression of Angiogenesis Related Factors and its Receptors in Ovine Placentome?’
Funded Summer Student Scholarships (10 weeks)
2018 'Is the Kisspeptin/GnRH neuroendocrine system a target through which environmental chemicals could alter reproductive function?' British Society for Neuroendocrinology Student Laboratory Experience Grant
2014 ‘Effects of artificial light at night on settlement decisions and reproductive development of wild birds’. IBAHCM Summer Studentship. (Co-Supervisors Dr Barbara Helm, Dr Jane Robinson, Prof Peter O’Shaughnessy)
2014 ‘Morphological Variation of Fish and Macro-Invertebrates from three Lochs in Northern Ireland’- Fisheries Society of the British Isles (Co-Supervisor Lydia Bach, Queen’s University, Belfast).
2012 ‘The Ontogeny of “black tail” pathology in Brown Trout caused by Chronic Heavy Metal Toxicity’- Fisheries Society of the British Isles (Co-Supervisor Willie Yeomans, Clyde River Foundation).
2012 ‘Does environmental chemical exposure pose a risk to male reproductive health?’ Wellcome Vets Vacation Scholarships
2009 ‘Exposure to environmental pollutants can negatively affect the reproductive neuroendocrine axis. Is the timing of exposure important?’ Wellcome Vets Vacation Scholarships
2009 ‘Does prenatal exposure to testosterone in a female affect neuroendocrine systems that regulate reproductive function?’ British Society for Neuroendocrinology Student Laboratory Experience Grant (Co-Supervisor Jane Robinson)
2008 ‘Examining the effects of exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds on pituitary gonadotrophs and their receptors’. Wellcome Vets Vacation Scholarships
2017/2018 "The Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) on the Male Benthic Selachimorpha Galeus Melastomus (Blackmouth catshark) in the Eastern Mediterranean" Magdalene Papadothoulou (MSci Marine and Freshawater Biology)
2017/2018 "An Investigation into the Oxidative Stress of the Liver in Ovis aries Following Exposure to Pasture Treated with Biosolids" Alice Gilyeat (BSc Zoology)
2017/2018 "An investigation into oxidative stress in Mytilus edulis, collected from different sites in the Clyde Estuary" Chloe Erskine (BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology)
2016/2017 "Assessing Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) welfare in captivity using wild conspecifics as a welfare indicator and environmental enrichment to enhance welfare" Shellie Walsh (BSc Zoology)
2015/2016 "Steroidogenic enzyme expression in adrenal glands from 1 day old lambs exposed to sewage sludge chemicals in utero" Yin Kwok (BSc Zoology)
2015/2016 "The effect of anti-parasitic drug Rycoben on the invertebrate colonisation of sheep dung" Hannah Davidson (BSc Zoology)
2014/2015 "Environmental enrichment to improve welfare of captive chimpanzees" Karen Rostron (BSc Zoology)
2013/2014 "The effects of a mixture of endocrine disrupting chemicals on oestrogen receptor numbers in the ovine sexually dimorphic nucelus" Michelle Oswald (BSc Zoology)
2013/2014 "Effects of Inhibiting gonadotrophin releasing hormone on the fear response in male sheep: A novel object test" Shauna McBrearty (BSc Zoology)
2012/2013 "The effects of in-utero exposure to chemicals in sewage sludge via maternal grazing on treated pasture before and/or after conception on female fetal pituitary gonadotrophs" Kate Hall (BSc Zoology)
2012/2013 "Oxidative stress gene expression in black-tailed juvenile Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) exposed to lead contaminated water" Nally Tan (BSc MArine and Freshwater Biology)
2012/2013 "A Study of the morphology of Hawksbill Nesting Beaches in the North of Tobago" Andrew Nuttall (BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology)
2011/2012- "Sewage Sludge: Effects on Kisspeptin/Estrogen Receptor alpha Co-expression and the Ovine Hypothalamus" Victoria Caginalp (BSc Veterinary Biosciences)
BSc (Hons) Zoology
BSc (Hons) Marine and Freshwater Biology
BSc (Hons) Veterinary Biosciences
2014-2018 Zoe Johnston, MRC Doctoral Training Programme for thesis entitled "The human fetal adrenal and the influence of maternal smoking" (Second Supervisor Peter O'Shaughnessy).
2017-2018 Jacqueline Jacot, MSc Quantitative Methods in Biodiversity, Conservation and Epidemiology for project entitled "Soiled: Occurrence of Microplastics in Soil Layers from Agricultural Land Treated with Sewage Sludge
2017-2018 Laura Downie, MRes Biomedical Sciences for project entitled "Establishing a new model for diabetes research: histological approaches toward understanding glucose and metabolic variation in a natural population" (Co-Supervisor Kevin Parsons).
2016-2017 Louie Aspinall, MRes Biomedical Sciences for project entitled "Does maternal grazing on biosolids fertilised pastures affect fetal adrenal development in sheep?" (Co-Supervisor Denise Hough)