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Developing test methods to identify endocrine disrupting chemicals toxic to female reproduction.

Start date: 01 January 2019
End date: 31 December 2023
Coordinator Environment and Health: Prof Dr Majorie van Duursen

Funding: EU H2020 (Grant Agreement no. 825100)


It is beyond a doubt that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) impact the health of humans, animals and the environment globally. Surprisingly, we still don’t know exactly how EDCs can harm female reproductive health. This is one of the reasons that we currently have no good test methods and regulatory procedures to address this. This renders women’s reproductive health at increasing risk globally, which, coupled with increasing incidence rates of reproductive disorders, is of great concern.

A woman’s reproductive health is largely established during embryonic and fetal development and subsequently matures during puberty. The endocrine system influences development, maturation and function of the female reproductive system, thereby making appropriate hormone levels imperative for correct functioning of reproductive processes. It is concerning that the effects of human-made chemicals on the endocrine system and female reproductive health are poorly addressed in regulatory chemical safety assessment, partly because adequate test methods are lacking.

Our EU-funded project FREIA ( aims to address this need by increasing understanding of how endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can impact female reproductive health. We will use this information to provide better test methods that enable fit-for-purpose chemical regulation and then share our knowledge, promote a sustainable society and improve the reproductive health of women globally.

Read a more detailed background on the FREIA project here.

The main objective of the FREIA project is to provide dedicated, human-relevant, test methods to identify EDCs that cause female reproductive toxicity.

FREIA will generate and integrate scientific data on the effects of EDCs on female reproductive health, specifically on ovarian development and function and the subsequent consequences for female fertility. These data will be used to develop a test strategy with dedicated test methods to assess female reproductive toxicity and provide the basis to develop health preventive options.

Specific objectives are:

  1. Provide mechanistic descriptions on the progression from molecular changes to cascading key events at the cellular, tissue or organism level leading to female reproductive toxicity. FREIA specifically focuses on endocrine processes involved in ovarian development at specific life-stages.
  2. Develop a test strategy to support identification of EDCs that cause female reproductive toxicity in the context of regulatory frameworks.
  3. Provide standardised test methods to assess endocrine activities of chemicals for endpoints relevant to female reproductive health.
  4. Provide human data to identify EDC exposures that perturb biological pathways leading to female reproductive toxicity. These data will improve capabilities to extrapolate in vitro and in vivo experimental data on endocrine activities of chemicals to clinical outcomes.
  5. Deliver guidance documents for industry and white papers for policy-makers, regulators and health assessors.
  6. Create a strategic plan for sustainable health strategies, for stakeholders beyond the scientific community, in order to promote female reproductive health globally


Prof. Dr. Majorie van Duursen is coordinator of the FREIA project. Besides that, VU is involved in several tasks within the project. We will:

  • develop and apply a sensitive analytical method for quantification of steroid hormone profiles in a variety of matrices, e.g. plasma and cell culture media.
  • Explore the use of bovine oocyte maturation and competency in vitro as test method for identification of EDCs toxic to female fertility. This is a collaboration with Dr. Bart Gadella of the Utrecht University.

Read more about FREIA


The FREIA project is carried out in collaboration with Bart Gadella, Roel Vermeulen (Utrecht University, NL), Paul Fowler (University of Aberdeen, UK), Julie Boberg, Sofie Christiansen, Terje Svingen, Eva Bay Wedeby (Danish Technical University, DK), Pauliina Damdimopoulou (Karolinska Institute, SE), Anne-Simone Parent (University of Liège, BE), Séverine Mazaud-Guittot (University of Rennes, FR), Lisa Connolly (Queens University of Belfast, UK), Andres Salumets (Competence Centre on Health Technologies, EE), Jan Holte (Uppsala University, SE), and Ana Soto (Tufts University, USA).


  • Prof. Dr. Majorie van Duursen, Coordinator (
  • Prof. Dr. Pim Leonards
  • Prof. Dr. Marja Lamoree
  • Evi Vazakidou (MSc)
  • Nadia Asimaki (MSc)
  • Charlotte Koopmans (MSc)