Plastic chemicals, lipidomics and child neurodevelopment

The rates of neurodevelopmental disorders are rising. It is estimated 1 in 70 people in Australia are on the autism spectrum. Neurodevelopmental disorders have multiple contributing factors such as genetic, biological and environmental. Understanding the role and mechanisms involved can accelerate public health translation. The prenatal and perinatal environment are critical periods that can affect many diseases in later life.

Plastic product chemicals, such as bisphenols and phthalates are ubiquitous in our environment. While some animal studies demonstrate that these chemicals at low doses act as endocrine disruptors, affecting steroid and lipid metabolism. Approximately 50% of the dry weight of the brain is composed of lipids. Advances in our ability to measure prenatal biomarkers and molecular pathways in birth cohorts can now accelerate the pace of public health translation. In particular, pregnancy provides a finite interventional time window as the effects on brain development can be lifelong.


  • Understand how plastic product chemicals such as bisphenols and phthalates alter the lipidome at birth related to a child’s neurodevelopment.

The aim of the PhD project is to investigate how exposure to phthalates and bisphenols are associated with an increased risk of child neurodevelopmental challenges through the maternal and/or cord blood lipidome using samples from a longitudinal study based in Australia. In parallel, we’re investigating the effects of environmentally relevant doses in mouse models.

The results for this project can help us better understand prenatal and perinatal risk factors related to neurodevelopmental disorders. Potential outcomes include policy changes to Australian and international prenatal nutrition, and supplementation recommendations and updated regulations in early life.

Research team

Research group


  • Dr Martin O’Hely – Deakin University
  • Dr Satvika Burugupalli – Baker IDI
  • Kris Vacy (PhD candidate) – Project member

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Student applications

Students who are applying to study at The Florey can register their interest in this project. Refer to our step-by-step guide to help you with your application.

How to apply

Accepting students

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