Cutting-edge Science of Exposures

written by Nancy Hepp, MS
Research and Communications Specialist

Sometimes there are stories, studies or policy decisions in our quarterly Top 10 nomination list that don’t make the final cut but are still worthy of some extra conversation. Here’s an example of two stories that we considered for our most recent list:

graphic of oxidative DNA damage

Graphic from the NIH article, which they acquired courtesy of Bret Freudenthal. Read the full description on the NIH site.

From the National Institutes of Health: NIH scientists determine how environment contributes to several human diseases. Using a new imaging technique, National Institutes of Health researchers have found that the biological machinery that builds DNA can insert molecules into the DNA strand that are damaged as a result of environmental exposures. The study: Uncovering the polymerase-induced cytotoxicity of an oxidized nucleotide.

From Phys.org: New technology tracks carcinogens as they move through the body. Researchers for the first time have developed a method to track through the human body the movement of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, as extraordinarily tiny amounts of these potential carcinogens are biologically processed and eliminated. The study: Human in vivo pharmacokinetics of [14c]dibenzo[def,p]chrysene by accelerator mass spectrometry following oral microdosing.

These stories are examples of advances in our understanding of how environment and living organisms interact due to cutting-edge technology. Another study a year ago (F2RL3 methylation as a biomarker of current and lifetime smoking exposures) showcased the ability to determine lifetime exposure to tobacco smoke via methylation of a specific gene—epigenetic changes that an individual will bear forever. The ability to track exposures and interactions at the subcellular and molecular levels could permit much greater precision in diagnosing and treating disease but also gives hope that we’ll learn more about preventing damage.

We might even be able to better pinpoint the sources of exposures, which calls forth another Top 10 nominee that didn’t make the cut: a 2013 study reporting a technique for estimating whether mercury exposures are from dental amalgams or fish consumption: New insight into biomarkers of human mercury exposure using naturally occurring mercury stable isotopes. But there are lower-tech options for estimating and tracking exposures, also, such as wearing silicone wristbands that absorb the chemicals in the wearer’s environment: Wristbands can monitor environmental health (and the study, Silicone wristbands as personal passive samplers, also a CHE Top 10 contender from a year ago).

If new techniques and technologies can show how and where we’re being exposed and the damage being done to our health, plaintiffs could have powerful tools to demand accountability from polluters. With that science-based leverage, perhaps we could see real changes in how chemicals are being developed and released into our air, water, soil, food and bodies. And that would be a Top 10 story.

To follow news articles, studies and other announcements about environmental health, please visit CHE’s news feed.

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