Investigating the endocrine disrupting potential and cytotoxic effects of packaging leachates and plasticisers

  • Emma Harper

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Endocrine disrupting chemicals are compounds which can alter the function(s) of the endocrine system by disrupting natural signalling, production and secretion of hormones, contributing to a wide range of adverse health effects. Plastic packaging and films have been identified to leach chemicals/compounds into food and beverages which can negatively affect the consumer and/ or environment. Compounds which leach out of plastic materials often have hormonal activity, therefore highlighting the potential for endocrine disrupting leachates to be present. This thesis assessed novel naturally produced bio-based polymers that are currently being explored as a potentially safer alternative to current synthetic plastics using in vitro bioassays.

The in vitro bioassays utilised in this thesis have shown to be valuable for assessing interferences with nuclear receptor signalling and cellular health. This thesis presents novel data and confirms and extends previous research that exposure to plastic leachates may affect the endocrine system via affecting the functioning of steroid hormones; disrupting nuclear receptor signalling. This thesis helps contribute towards the knowledge about potential safety concerns and hormonal activity of plastic leachates in the plastic packaging industry and could provide an innovative proof of concept approach in selectively guiding the development of safer plastic packaging. The knowledge gained from the studies in the thesis can only help to improve the risk assessment of numerous plastic leachates and the development of potentially safer plastic packaging, which humans and animals may be exposed to throughout the food chain and the environment.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorLisa Connolly (Supervisor) & Eoin Cunningham (Supervisor)


  • endocrine disrupting chemicals
  • steroid hormones
  • receptors
  • reporter gene assays
  • high content analysis
  • migration testing
  • bisphenols
  • bio-based polymers
  • pre-lethal cytotoxicity
  • cellular health
  • leachates
  • estrogen
  • androgen
  • progestagen
  • glucocorticoid
  • bDtBPP

Cite this