Dr Michelle Bellingham
- Senior Lecturer (Veterinary Science & Education )
I was appointed as Lecturer in Comparative Physiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine in 2019 after moving from the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, where I was as a lecturer from 2012. I have been an Associate of the Vet School since 2007, when I took up a post-doctoral researcher position on a Wellcome Trust funded project with Prof Neil Evans. Since 2007, 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 biosolids-treated pastures) on offspring physiological systems, including effects on hypothalamic neuroendocrine systems, pituitary cell populations and changes in adult reproductive physiology. My research has also focused 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).
Diversity and Inclusion Interests
During my lectureship role in the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine (IBAHCM) I was a member, then Chair of the Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team (SAT). I was involved in, and successfully lead, IBAHCM towards achieving their Bronze (2013) and Silver (2016) awards. Through this process, and my more recent memberships on the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Committee (2015) and University Gender Equality Steering Group (2018), I am acutely aware of many of the barriers underrepresented groups can face which can cause feelings of exclusion resulting in Universities losing out on their valuable contributions. Since moving to my position in the School of Veterinary Medicine, I have become a member of ther Diversity and Inclusion Committee which 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 the School of Veterinary Medicine to talk more about mental health and support staff and student wellbeing. I am enthusiastic about continuing in this role, alongside my research and public engagement, to help towards creating an inclusive culture where people feel they can participate and contribute without barriers.
Main Career Achievements
- Chair of Grants Panel and Trustee Board Member for British Society for Neuroendocrinology (2016-present)
- Co-Chair of local organising commitee for International Congress on Neuroendocrinology, Glasgow 2022
- Lead organiser of Annual Meeting of British Society for Neuroendocrinology Glasgow, 2016
- Member of Public Engagement Committee for Society for Endocrinology (2019-present)
- Member of Independent Scientific Review Panel for Breast Cancer UK Charity (2017-present)
- Media Ambassador for Society for Endocrinology (2017-present)
- Grant reviewer panellist for Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity
- Participant in Aurora Leadership in Higher Education Programme 2016/2017
- Chair of Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine Athena SWAN Committee (2016-2019)
- Advance HE Athena SWAN Panellist
- Member of University of Glasgow Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group (2018-Present)
- Public Engagement Events- Glasgow Science Centre and European Researchers Night Explorathon, Science Lates, Royal Highland Show, Wellcome Trust funded event "What's the grey matter with Gregory?"
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 neuroendocrinology and 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 rigorous review, the paper was published in 2012 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. 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 'Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DoHaD)' describes how adverse conditions experienced during fetal and early post-natal life, can affect the long term 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 (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 biosolids treated pastures
There is a worrying increase in the incidence of disorders of reproductive system development and function in humans and an 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 sludge/biosolids) to examine the effects of chemical exposure during pregnancy on the reproductive (and other) system. Biosolids (thermally dried sludge) areproduced from wastewater treatment, contains a complex mixture of anthropogenic chemicals (Table 1) and offers a 'real-life' model to examine the effects of fetal exposure to exogenous compounds (Figure 1). The Universtiy of Glasgow Cochno Farm and Research Centre is host to our unique experimental biosolids pastures which we have used to establish our "Biosolids-exposed sheep" model to address the effects of exposure to low-level chemical mixtures.
Our published studies have shown effects of biosolids exposure 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.
Grants and Awards listed are those received whilst working with the University of Glasgow.
- Transgenerational consequences of pre-conceptional and in utero exposure to real-life chemical mixtures on fertility and metabolic health
National Institutes of Health
2020 - 2020
- 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
2019-2023 Christopher Elcombe (PhD Student) "Assessing the effects of low-level exposure to chemical mixtures on DNA methylation, oxidative stress and temporal health"- (second supervisor Neil Evans)
2019-2023 Franziska Tuerk (Lord Kelvin Adam Smith PhD Student) "Assessing the ecological impacts of biosolids application to land" -(second supervisor Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay)
- Elcombe, Christopher
Assessing the effects of low-level exposure to chemical mixtures on DNA methylation, oxidative stress and temporal health
- Tuerk, Franziska
Assessing the Ecological impacts of Sewage Sludge Recycling
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)
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 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) Veterinary Biosciences
Professional activities & recognition
Grant committees & research advisory boards
- 2016 - 2020: British Society for Neuroendocrinology, Grants Review Panel
- 2017: Breast Cancer UK, Scientific Review Panel
- 2020: Medical Research Council, Grant Reviewer
- 2018: Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology
- 2018: Behavioural Neuroscience
Professional & learned societies
- 2016 - 2020: Chair of Grants Committee, British Society for Neuroendocrinology
- 2020: Treasurer, British Society for Neuroendocrinology
- 2019: Public Engagement Committee, Society for Endocrinology
- 2017: Media Ambassador, Society for Endocrinology
Selected international presentations
- 2018: International Congress on Neuroendocrinology (Toronto)