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Search for safe replacements for BPA goes high-tech

CamelBak brand water bottles hang on display at an outdoor supply store on April 16, 2008, in Arcadia, California. The CamelBak brand is free of the controversial carbonate plastic bisphenol-a (BPA).
CamelBak brand water bottles hang on display at an outdoor supply store on April 16, 2008, in Arcadia, California. The CamelBak brand is free of the controversial carbonate plastic bisphenol-a (BPA).
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

BPA (bisphenol A) has been linked with the disruption of endocrine and hormonal systems in animals and people. The European Union has banned the use of BPA formulated cosmetics. The search for a replacement for BPA has produced new analogs but no clearly safe replacement to date. Dr. Fabio Stossi of Baylor College of Medicine and colleagues have developed a fast method for finding the systemic effects of potential BPA replacements. The research was reported in the May 22, 2014, edition of the journal Chemistry & Biology.

The problem with BPA is the chemical is used in so many products that an immediate ban would produce a collapse of the plastics industry. The search for an analog of BPA that is safe for humans and that do not interfere with animal endocrine and hormonal systems has proven more challenging than expected. An analog of a chemical compound is a variation in chemical connections that produces a slightly different structure but preserves the majority of the functionality of the original compound.

The researchers have developed a fast method of determining the endocrine and hormonal effects of potential BPA replacements in living cells and in a computer database. The method can quickly determine the detrimental effects that a possible replacement for BPA may present before the compound is actually used. One particularly important effect is the reaction of BPA and BPA analogs with estrogen receptors that could produce cancer.

This is the first technology that can predict the majority of biochemical effects that a compound may have on living cells. The researchers plan to expand the use of this technology to identify other common chemicals that have until now not been known to have a detrimental effect on people or animals. The opportunity to find a suitable replacement for BPA quickly is now possible.