Pollution & Health

Post-Doctoral Fellowships


Assessing the Impacts of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) On Human Health Using Cutting-Edge Methods

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are ubiquitous in our everyday environment from food and beverage consumption, to garments, cosmetics, and maintenance products. It has now become clear that these substances are responsible for major public health issues, including infertility, hormone-related cancers, diabetes, and obesity. EDCs exposures during pregnancy can profoundly affect the developing fetus, causing differences in sexual development (DSDs). These DSDs involve reduced male fertility and hypospadias, a malformation of the penis that is the most common persistent congenital disability, affecting 1 in every 125 live male births. Hypospadias is commonly associated with significant medical complications later in life. Understanding how EDCs induce this condition is crucial given the growing incidence of the disease, 1% per annum across developed countries, attributed to an increasing spread of EDCs within the population. Existing assessment methodologies often lack accuracy and do not cover subtle abnormalities such as hypospadias.

To address this significant public health concern, Dr. Luke Govers and his team have been working with the Environmental Protection Agency, Victoria, to develop fast, sensitive, and high throughput assays to determine the health risks associated with EDCs exposures. Upon completing their research, they have succeeded in designing novel cell and tissue-based methods intended to assess the impacts of chemical exposures. These methods stand out markedly from existing toxicity assays that usually require extensive cohort animal studies and detailed assessments to identify the often-subtle health impacts caused by exposures to EDCs. The preliminary findings using a combination of mouse and human models provided a basis for arguing that Australians’ acceptable level for atrazine (a broadly used herbicide) in water can be a source of reduced fertility and metabolic disorders in men, leading to the reassessment of safe atrazine levels in Australian water by policymakers.

Within his AXA Fellowship, Dr. Luke Govers aspires to develop more automated methods for rapidly assessing chemical impacts and accurately predicting EDC toxicity for human health and the environment. As a specialist in reproductive physiology and genetics, Dr. Govers will apply his innovative in vitro and ex vivo systems to 1) identify panels of genes sitting at the interface of the genome and environment, and 2) develop more sensitive and biologically relevant tests to define the action of EDCs and more importantly, 3) to identify their impacts on male reproductive health in real-time.

Dr. Govers intends to broaden his investigation into a wider variety of EDCs and provide a methodological framework for any future analysis on newly uncovered suspected EDCs. The research outcomes will overcome the knowledge gap regarding EDCs’ impacts on human health and the environment, benefiting different stakeholders, including the industry, government, and civil society.

Through scientific research, Dr. Govers strives to make people more aware of congenital diseases that can emerge due to the impact of EDCs on reproductive systems. He is also determined to drive public health policy by pushing for the regulation of the use of EDCs and their exposure levels, eventually contributing to reducing the health risk to the population.

May 2022

Watch Dr. Luke Govers pitch his project in 3 minutes

Learn More About the AXA Fellowships in Harmful Susbtances



University of Melbourne

School of BioSciences





ORCID Open Researcher and Contributor ID, a unique and persistent identifier to researchers