Pilot Research Project 15

Partnership for the Advancement of Cancer Research Project

Pilot Research Project 15

Metal Exposure Assessment in Southern New Mexico

Co-Principal Investigators:
Polly Newcomb, Full Member, Public Health Sciences – FHCRC and Scott Adams, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Public Health Sciences - Fred Hutch
April Ulery, Professor, Plant and Environmental Sciences - NMSU

Exposure to metals such as cadmium, uranium, lead and arsenic is associated with a variety of health problems including cancer. Much of the current knowledge of the carcinogenic effects of metals is a result of studies of highly exposed occupational cohorts or populations acutely exposed following an identified exposure event (e.g., an industrial accident). Much less is known about the impact of chronic, low-level exposure to metals on cancer risk. Metal contamination of the environment in southern New Mexico has been documented, but the routes of human exposure to metals in this region are less detailed. Primary routes of exposure may include cigarette smoking, certain food items, drinking water, and house- or yard dust.

The current incomplete understanding of metal exposure in New Mexico, and its multiple potential deleterious health impacts, suggest that more research is needed.

Therefore, the long-term objective of this pilot project is to establish an interdisciplinary team of scientists who will conduct future environmental epidemiological studies of metals in southern New Mexico. To build this capacity, the team will collaboratively accomplish these specific aims:

  1. Determine the feasibility of conducting a population-based study of metal exposure among residents in southern New Mexico by recruiting a sample of 200 participants residing in Las Cruces, NM. From these participants, collect urine specimens, saliva samples for future genetic analysis, measurements of soil metal content near their homes, demographics, and anthropometric information.
  2. Assay urine samples to quantify the concentration of a panel of metals including: cadmium, uranium, lead, and arsenic and conduct a preliminary investigation of the association between participant characteristics, levels of metals found in the soil around participants’ residences, and urinary levels of metals.
  3. Advance the training in health and environmental sciences and continue the development of health sciences research methods among members of the study team, including a post-doctoral researcher at FHRC (Dr. Adams), and a graduate student at NMSU (to be named), through activities including the publication of peer-reviewed scientific articles, attendance at national scientific meetings, participation in skill-development workshops, and writing of grant applications for future independent funding.