Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY , B.S. in Biology
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, Ph.D. Toxicology
My long-term career goal is to establish an independent academic research program to investigate the mechanisms by which environmental stressors can impact female reproductive health, placental development and function, and offspring health. As a trainee, I have spent more than a decade in the field of toxicology working with a broad range of animal models to assess health risks associated with chemical exposures during critical windows of development. Under the guidance of Dr. Heather Patisaul, as a graduate student, I made significant contributions to the fields of reproductive, developmental, and neuro toxicology, with eleven peer-reviewed publications, and found a passion for research that aims to identify placental mechanisms of fetal developmental programming and disease risk. Since then, I have pursued postdoctoral training that would expand my molecular toolkit in genetic and epigenetic techniques, bioinformatic and statistical applications, and knowledge of translationally relevant in vivo and in vitro models. My time as a postdoc with Dr. Tracy Bale taught me to think more broadly about the maternal-fetal unit during gestation and ask questions about how cumulative maternal life-time experiences shape pregnancy outcomes. Most recently, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Scott Belcher at North Carolina State University. In the last year, I have had unique training experiences working with a diversity of sentinel species, including wildlife, such as alligators and sharks, and domestic animals, like horses and dogs, to assess environmentally relevant exposures at a residential, regional, and even a global scale that can impact humans and animals alike. I have been inspired to implement a “One Health” approach in my own lab, which calls for collaborative efforts to assess consequences, responses, and actions at the human, animal, and ecosystem interfaces to address environmental health issues. Using my collective research background and training I am uniquely prepared to establish an independent research program at Clemson University that will implement knowledge from “One-Health” case studies to more accurately design laboratory experiments that reflect the complexity of the chemical environment we live in and identify the developmental origins of chemical-associated health risks.
The REPRO lab implements a One Environmental Health approach to investigate situational differences in anthropogenic factors that contribute to chemical exposures and identify the origins of chemical-associated health risks, particularly those that are reproductive and developmental in origin. We are especially interested in the placenta, a transient organ that plays an important role in both maternal and fetal health during pregnancy. Situated between the mother and fetus, the placenta is made up of both maternal and fetal tissue. Utilizing lab mice as our primary in vivo model we will investigate molecular and morphological changes in maternal (endometrium) and fetal (blastocyst) tissues that eventually form the placenta to identify chemical-induced alterations in placental development and function that may contribute to adverse pregnancy and offspring health outcomes. Related investigations will also pursue 1) how interacting stressors, such as chemical exposure and the physiological demands of pregnancy, impact maternal metabolic health and subsequent pregnancies, and 2) develop translationally relevant in vitro models, incorporating human cell-lines, biological matrices, and even microbiota, to probe reproductive molecular pathways that are vulnerable to perturbation by synthetic chemicals.
A developing research area in the lab utilizes sentinel animals as bioindicators of situational environmental exposures. Replicating accurate environmental exposures in the lab is unachievable and necessitates biomonitoring efforts to characterize exposures and long-term health consequences of synthetic chemicals. Currently, we are collaborating with scientists at UC Davis and OSU to investigate the role that coastal habitat urbanization plays in the bioaccumulation of contaminants in sharks across life stages.
Rock KD, Folts L, Zierden HC, Marx-Rattner R, Leu A, Nugent BM, Bale TL. (In Review) Developmental transcriptomic patterns can be altered by transgenic overexpression of Uty. Scientific Reports. https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-2928137/v1
Rock KD, Polera ME, Guillette TC, McCord J, Dean K, Watters M, Stevens-Stewart D, Belcher SM. 2023 Companion Animals as Sentinels of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance (PFAS) Exposure and Associated Health Biomarkers in Gray’s Creek North Carolina. Environmental Science and Technology. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.3c01146
Rock KD, Starnes HM, Belcher SM. 2023 Reproductive Toxicology, Female. Encyclopedia of Toxicology.https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-824315-2.00420-6
Belcher SM, Guillette MP, Robb F, Rock KD. (2022) Comparative Assessment of Blood Mercury in American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) from Coastal North Carolina and Florida. Ecotoxicology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10646-022-02573-z
Rock KD, St Armour G, Horman B, Phillips A, Ruis M, Stewart A, Stapleton HM, Patisual HB. (2020) Effects of Prenatal Exposure to a Mixture of Organophosphate Flame Retardants on Placental Gene Expression and Serotonergic Innervation in the Developing Forebrain. Toxicological Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfaa046