UH Receives $2M to Study Cancer Risks of Environmental Toxins

October 27, 2019, 6:00 AM HST (Updated October 26, 2019, 5:15 PM)
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The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center has received a $2 million grand award to study how human genetics play a factor in the risk of cancers related to environmental toxins and carcinogens. The award, granted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, will support Center researchers Michele Carbone and Haining Yang over a three-year period.

Carbone and Yang are working in partnership with Joe Grzimek, a researcher at the Desert Research Institute and Renown Health in Reno, Nevada. Together, the team will analyze gene interactions and exposure to environmental contaminants among people living in northern Nevada—an area with high rates of respiratory diseases and cancers.

The region is fraught with a variety of toxins affecting human health including asbestos, arsenic and other heavy metals. Inhaling and ingesting these contaminants is known to cause a number of diseases, including cancer. But only a small percentage of people exposed to these toxins develop cancer, suggesting that genetic inheritance may play an important role in whether people fall ill after exposure to environmental carcinogens.

If this hypothesis proves true, the research will help identify possible risk factors in human genes that may lead to cancer and other diseases, and thereby improve prevention methods and treatments.

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The study’s genetic research will be done at the UH Cancer Center in Honolulu. Environmental sampling and genetic and statistical analyses will be conducted at the Desert Research Institute.

Affiliated with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, The UH Cancer Center is one of only 71 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. It aims to eliminate cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach, while recognizing the unique ethnic, cultural and environmental aspects of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific region.

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