18 March 2022

Researchers have reported evidence that first responders to the World Trade Center disaster in 2001 have increased rates of gene mutations, which have raised their risk of developing blood cancers.

World Trade Center first responders and civilians were exposed to particulate matter with high levels of potential carcinogens. Previous studies have suggested an increased risk in this group of prostate, thyroid, and other cancers.

Working with researchers from New York and New Jersey, Dr Michael Savona of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville examined DNA from World Trade Center first responders. These were matched with a control group of 203 Nashville firefighters identified via BioVU, a biobank of DNA extracted from discarded blood samples, as well as 52 firefighters recruited at an annual convention.

World Trade Center first-responders and controls were matched for age, sex and smoking status.

In Nature Medicine the authors write: “The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center created an unprecedented environmental exposure to aerosolised dust, gases and potential carcinogens.”

They explain that the acquisition of mutations in blood cells, called clonal haematopoiesis, is linked to smoking and exposure to genotoxic stimuli.

The team showed, using deep targeted sequencing of blood samples, that a significantly higher proportion of World Trade Center-exposed first responders have clonal haematopoiesis compared to non-exposed firefighters.

In tests with mice exposed to similar particulate matter, the animals also developed more mutations in hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells.

“In summary, the high burden of clonal haematopoiesis in World Trade Center-exposed first responders provides a rationale for enhanced screening and preventative efforts in this population,” the researchers conclude.

Source: Jasra S, Giricz O, Zeig-Owens R, Pradhan K, Goldfarb DG, Barreto-Galvez A, Silver AJ, Chen J, Sahu S, Gordon-Mitchell S, Choudhary GS, Aluri S, Bhagat TD, Shastri A, Bejan CA, Stockton SS, Spaulding TP, Thiruthuvanathan V, Goto H, Gerhardt J, Haider SH, Veerappan A, Bartenstein M, Nwankwo G, Landgren O, Weiden MD, Lekostaj J, Bender R, Fletcher F, Greenberger L, Ebert BL, Steidl U, Will B, Nolan A, Madireddy A, Savona MR, Prezant DJ, Verma A. (2022) “High burden of clonal hematopoiesis in first responders exposed to the World Trade Center disaster.” Nature Medicine, doi: 10.1038/s41591-022-01708-3

Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-022-01708-3

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