Kelly Ferguson, Ph.D., M.P.H.


Epidemiology Branch / Perinatal & Early Life Epidemiology Group


A326 Rall Building
111 T W Alexander Dr
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709


Research Topics

Adverse pregnancy outcomes have extensive individual and societal repercussions, and the contribution of environmental factors is of increasing interest to researchers, policy makers, physicians, and parents. My research explores the relationship between environmental exposures in pregnancy and their associations with adverse birth outcomes as well as long-term sequelae in the mother and child. Using advanced molecular epidemiologic and statistical methods, I work to identify important contributors to the diseases of pregnancy and implement preventions to improve maternal and child health.

Phthalates and phenols are used commonly as plasticizers and in personal care products, and exposure is ubiquitous in populations worldwide. My previous work identified relationships between biomarkers of exposure to phthalate diesters and bisphenol-A during gestation and adverse pregnancy outcomes, particularly spontaneous preterm birth and reduced fetal growth. Furthermore, my research highlights the importance of oxidative stress and inflammatory pathways as mediators of these relationships. Tangential to this work I have worked to establish novel statistical approaches for examining these associations and establishing causality.

My long-term research goals are to better understand the contribution to adverse reproductive outcomes made by the multitude of chemical exposures and psychosocial stressors in our environment. This will include improving understanding of exposures to the mother, father, and fetus—as well as community-level exposures—as they impact reproductive development, fertility, maintenance of pregnancy, complications of gestation, events at delivery, and child health outcomes. These findings will serve to establish important interventions for decreasing exposures and/or remediating downstream biological pathways in order to avert diseases of pregnancy and their long-term consequences.


I am specifically trained in epidemiologic study design, chemical exposure assessment, reproductive health endpoints, and advanced statistical methods. I earned an MPH in Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology as well as a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. My previous research explored the relationship between maternal exposure to phthalate diesters and bisphenol-A during pregnancy and preterm birth as well as fetal growth, with investigation of oxidative stress and inflammation as potentially important underlying mechanisms. My current research program aims to expand this work to better understand oxidative stress during pregnancy, investigate the interaction between chemical exposures and psychological stressors on preterm birth and fetal growth, and to examine the long term impacts of exposures in pregnancy on maternal and child health.

Selected Publications

  1. Ferguson KK, Chen YH, VanderWeele TJ, McElrath TF, Meeker JD, Mukherjee B. Mediation of the Relationship between Maternal Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth by Oxidative Stress with Repeated Measurements across Pregnancy. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125(3):488-494.

  2. Ferguson KK, Meeker JD, McElrath TF, Mukherjee B, Cantonwine DE. Repeated measures of inflammation and oxidative stress biomarkers in preeclamptic and normotensive pregnancies. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2017;216(5):527.e1-527.e9.

  3. Ferguson KK, Meeker JD, Cantonwine DE, Chen YH, Mukherjee B, McElrath TF. Urinary phthalate metabolite and bisphenol A associations with ultrasound and delivery indices of fetal growth. Environ Int. 2016;94:531-7.

  4. Cantonwine DE, Ferguson KK, Mukherjee B, Chen YH, Smith NA, Robinson JN, Doubilet PM, Meeker JD, McElrath TF. Utilizing Longitudinal Measures of Fetal Growth to Create a Standard Method to Assess the Impacts of Maternal Disease and Environmental Exposure. PLoS One. 2016;11(1):e0146532.

  5. Ferguson KK, McElrath TF, Pace GG, Weller D, Zeng L, Pennathur S, Cantonwine DE, Meeker JD. Urinary Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Metabolite Associations with Biomarkers of Inflammation, Angiogenesis, and Oxidative Stress in Pregnant Women. Environ Sci Technol. 2017;51(8):4652-4660.

This page was last updated on March 7th, 2016