May 12, 2021

Libin trainee investigating the impact of plastic alternatives on cardiovascular system development

Liam Connors wins second masters award to help fund his studies
Masters student Liam Connors
MSc student Liam Connors focuses on the long-term impacts of plastic alternatives on development Image courtesy Liam Connors

In 2010, the Canadian Government declared Bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical used to manufacture some hard-plastic containers and toys, a toxic substance and banned its use in baby bottles and baby formula containers.

However, other plastic alternatives, like BPS, Bisphenol S, which is similar in chemical structure to BPA, is commonly found in plastics and food containers. These substances disrupt the endocrine system and are potential contributors to chronic diseases. But they remain largely understudied, with few studies looking into the potential impacts the substance may have on developing fetuses.

Liam Connors, a masters student co-supervised by Dr. Bill Cole, PhD, and Dr. Jennifer Thompson, PhD, recently received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) MSc award. The award, coupled with one he previously received from the Cumming School of Medicine, is helping fund Connors’ masters project. That project focuses on the long-term impacts plastic alternatives may have on the cardiovascular health of individuals exposed to the toxins during development.

Specifically, Connors is investigating how BPS impacts the blood vessels of adult mice models who were exposed to the chemical in the fetus. He is looking at how their blood pressure regulation system is altered.

Early on his project, he has learned there are key differences between the sexes when it comes to the impacts of BPS, likely a result of differences in estrogen.

Connors, 22, received a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree at the University of Calgary.

While in that program, he had two classes with his mentor, Dr. Thompson, and was intrigued by her research, which focuses on how individuals are impacted in the long-term by suboptimal conditions in the womb.

“I found her work interesting, and I knew she was a good mentor,” said Connors. “I approached her, and she took me on as a student.”

Thompson, who is the director of education at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, is proud of Connor’s success.

“Liam is a bright, hardworking graduate student that excelled in his undergraduate program and continues to thrive in his graduate studies,” says Thompson. “I am very pleased to see Liam grow as a trainee, and I have no doubts that he will reach his career goals.”

Connors, who grew up in Calgary in a family of physicians, is considering a career in medicine. His goal is to one day be a clinician-researcher.

In his free time, Connors enjoys athletics. He competes in long distance races and has coached fencing.