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

Senior Investigator

Epidemiology Branch / Perinatal & Early Life Epidemiology Group


David P Rall Building
111 Tw 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, van den Dries MA, Gaillard R, Pronk A, Spaan S, Tiemeier H, Jaddoe VWV. Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure in Pregnancy in Association with Ultrasound and Delivery Measures of Fetal Growth. Environ Health Perspect. 2019;127(8):87005.
  2. Welch BM, Keil AP, Buckley JP, Calafat AM, Christenbury KE, Engel SM, O'Brien KM, Rosen EM, James-Todd T, Zota AR, Ferguson KK, Pooled Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth Study Group., Alshawabkeh AN, Cordero JF, Meeker JD, Barrett ES, Bush NR, Nguyen RHN, Sathyanarayana S, Swan SH, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Aalborg J, Dabelea D, Starling AP, Hauser R, Messerlian C, Zhang Y, Bradman A, Eskenazi B, Harley KG, Holland N, Bloom MS, Newman RB, Wenzel AG, Braun JM, Lanphear BP, Yolton K, Factor-Litvak P, Herbstman JB, Rauh VA, Drobnis EZ, Sparks AE, Redmon JB, Wang C, Binder AM, Michels KB, Baird DD, Jukic AMZ, Weinberg CR, Wilcox AJ, Rich DQ, Weinberger B, Padmanabhan V, Watkins DJ, Hertz-Picciotto I, Schmidt RJ. Associations Between Prenatal Urinary Biomarkers of Phthalate Exposure and Preterm Birth: A Pooled Study of 16 US Cohorts. JAMA Pediatr. 2022.
  3. Ferguson KK, Bommarito PA, Arogbokun O, Rosen EM, Keil AP, Zhao S, Barrett ES, Nguyen RHN, Bush NR, Trasande L, McElrath TF, Swan SH, Sathyanarayana S. Prenatal Phthalate Exposure and Child Weight and Adiposity from in Utero to 6 Years of Age. Environ Health Perspect. 2022;130(4):47006.
  4. Ferguson KK, Sammallahti S, Rosen E, van den Dries M, Pronk A, Spaan S, Guxens M, Tiemeier H, Gaillard R, Jaddoe VWV. Fetal Growth Trajectories Among Small for Gestational Age Babies and Child Neurodevelopment. Epidemiology. 2021;32(5):664-671.
  5. Welch BM, Keil AP, van 't Erve TJ, Deterding LJ, Williams JG, Lih FB, Cantonwine DE, McElrath TF, Ferguson KK. Longitudinal profiles of plasma eicosanoids during pregnancy and size for gestational age at delivery: A nested case-control study. PLoS Med. 2020;17(8):e1003271.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Monday, March 7, 2016