RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – We already know that being exposed to high levels of certain toxic substances can cause cancer.
But what about low levels of multiple contaminants? Can that exposure be just as dangerous?
“And we don’t know that because we really haven’t studied it and what this study gives us is the opportunity to do that,” said Cathrine Hoyo, an epidemiologist at North Carolina State University.
A $17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow researchers to follow 16,000 people in North Carolina and Georgia for up to five years.
“Let’s follow them before, way before they get the disease. Let’s follow them over time. Let’s see what we get,” said Hoyo.
Hoyo is also the director of the Epigenetics, Cancer and the Environment Laboratory at N.C. State and has studied the relationships between toxic contaminants and disease for decades.
What they hope to get is solid evidence that shows which environmental contaminants a person with early-stage liver disease was exposed to even at the lowest levels.
The South is seeing a greater increase in liver disease than most of the country.
“Usually when you are studying these diseases you usually look at say people with liver cancer and people without liver cancer and then look at what they’re exposed to, then measure the contaminants. The question has always been how do you know that what you are measuring didn’t happen yesterday and it has nothing to do with disease that has been developing for ten years,” said Hoyo.
The results could easily mean dozens of toxins are ruled out while others move to the front of the line saving the lives of not only people with liver disease but other diseases and cancers as well.
“Identifying them out of this huge number of chemicals is really difficult unless you do studies like this where you can take 50-100 chemicals and measure them and be able to say OK in this large sum it means the culprits are one two and three.”
UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Emory University join N.C. State in this effort.