By: Virginia Riddle
The University of Michigan (U-M) was granted $13 million from the National Cancer Institute to track how exposure to environmental contaminants could lead to cancer. The grant will be put into U-M’s School of Public Health and Rogel Cancer Center, specifically to the program of Michigan Cancer and Research on the Environment Study (MI-CARES).
MI-CARES will register over 100,000 individuals from Michigan to focus on the cancer-causing effects of PFAS, or “forever chemicals”, which do not break down, as well as heavy metals like lead, which are present in many forms of pollution. These 100,000 participants will be pulled from environmental hotspots and will have blood and urine samples regularly taken to track cancer biomarkers.
Michigan is a prime state to conduct MI-CARES, as it has experienced huge amounts of environmental tragedy in its history. As Celeste Leigh Pearce, principal investigator, and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health says, “Many communities experience a disproportionate disease burden because of failed governmental stewardship of local environments and the prioritization of private enterprise over health protection. With growing awareness of the health threats of these decisions, it’s essential to put greater focus on environmental contaminants and public health safety.”
Most notably, environmental issues in Michigan have come from lead and toxin contamination in Flint’s water supply, a 1970s case of animal feed contaminated with polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and large-scale contamination of the state’s water during the mid to late twentieth century. These crises have resulted in Michigan having the highest known PFAS levels of any state in the country.
Bhramar Mukherjee, professor and chair of biostatistics and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and associate director for quantitative data sciences at Rogel explains MI-CARES further by saying, “With MI-CARES, we will examine well-established carcinogens such as certain components of air pollution and metals, but also focus on environmental contaminants with less data available to adequately assess risk…” With this continued mindset
for finding hidden risk factors, the MI-CARES researchers may be able to shed a new light on cancer research.