Meet the Scientist: Dr. Antonia CalafatPosted on by
My “Meet the Scientist” series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists that aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health. A native of Majorca, Spain, Fulbright scholar, and accomplished researcher and author, meet my next interviewee, Dr. Antonia Calafat.
Antonia Calafat, PhD, is a Distinguished Consultant in the NCEH’s Division of Laboratory Sciences (DLS). Born and raised in Majorca, Spain, she received a degree in chemistry from the University of the Balearic Islands. “Why chemistry?” I asked. “The university had a rather limited science curriculum, and I was originally undecided between chemistry, biology, and pharmacy. I did not like botany very much, and I soon discovered my love of the chemical elements. Add to that my desire to work in a lab and conduct research, I decided I’d much rather study chemistry,” she replied.
Antonia was a Fulbright Scholar for two years at Emory University completing her post graduate training in chemistry. While working toward her PhD in Spain, Antonia originally had planned to work as a post-doctoral researcher abroad and then return to Spain. Although she was offered another post-doctoral fellowship if she returned to Spain, she declined and decided to continue her career here in the United States. I asked her, “What was your greatest accomplishment?” “Back then, becoming a Fulbright scholar,” said Antonia. In 1996, she joined DLS as a “CDC-Association of Public Health Laboratories” fellow.
Antonia proudly shared (and rightly so) that the scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), selected a paper she co-authored and published in 2008 as the 2012 EHP “Classic Paper of the Year.” EHP is a monthly journal of peer-reviewed research and news published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (my old digs), National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. EHP’s mission is to serve as a forum for the discussion of the interrelationships between the environment and human health. EHP achieves this by publishing in a balanced and objective manner the best peer-reviewed research and most current and credible news of the field.
Notable Contributions to Public Health: Publishing and Research
Antonia told me she’s both written and collaborated extensively on more than 200 publications—24 of which were published last year! Of these 24 publications, 16 were the result of collaborations with epidemiologists, toxicologists, and other scientists within CDC, in academia, and in government. The other eight publications resulted from the research conducted by CDC.
Research on Phthalates and Bisphenol-A
She stated that her most important contributions are about good biomonitoring practices. “It’s more than just having standards and performing analyses. It’s about conducting quality studies to identify sources of chemical exposures in people and assess the health effects of such exposures.” Much of Antonia’s biomonitoring work relates to research on phthalates and other chemicals in many consumer and personal care products. Types of products can include cologne, aftershave, lotions, hair products, and deodorants.
Some phthalates and some other compounds (e.g., bisphenol A [BPA], parabens) used in consumer and personal care products are man-made industrial chemicals that can disrupt hormone function in animals. These compounds are being investigated in humans for adverse health outcomes such as;
- birth defects,
- abnormal development of the child.
“For the past 10 years, I have developed biomonitoring methods to assess human exposure to phthalates and these other chemicals, to identify sources of exposure, and to assess associations between exposure and human health.”
What’s Most Rewarding About Her Work
“I’m really proud of what we do here. Our work can really make a difference to prevent unsafe exposures to potentially harmful chemicals. For example, the biomonitoring data we generate as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) provides the best estimate of Americans’ exposure to potentially toxic environmental chemicals.”
Antonia also said, “I do very much enjoy establishing and maintaining collaborations for the purpose of advancing environmental health. Last year, I was involved in 38 different collaborative studies with researchers at CDC, in domestic and international academic institutions, and in other federal agencies.”