The endocrine system is a network of glands in the body, each of which secretes a type of hormone into the bloodstream to regulate the body. Certain substances – termed endocrine disrupters - interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system, in at least one of three possible ways:
by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as oestrogen or testosterone, and thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body;
by blocking the receptors in cells receiving the hormones (hormone receptors), thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or
by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones in the organism, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones.
Devising test methods
It is important to have effective methods for testing if a chemical has endocrine disrupting properties.
Assessing the risks posed by chemicals is a long and complex process. Our scientists work on a combination of computer methods and automated laboratory in vitro tests to help predict the toxicity of chemicals. Potentially hazardous substances could thus be identified and prioritised for further testing, thereby speeding up the application of protection measures for the most hazardous substances.
This activity supports the European Commission's work on the implementation of the Community Strategy for Endocrine Disrupters, as well as the development of criteria and methods for the assessment of the endocrine disrupting properties of chemicals.
See also the section dedicated to the Endocrine Active Substances Database