New Clue In Cancer Cluster

By: James Steiner
By: James Steiner

A new study suggests a link between arsenic and tungsten and the development of cancer, and could point to a
cause of a cancer cluster in Fallon, researchers said.
A group of scientists who exposed pregnant mice with a
combination of arsenic and tungsten say the metals caused genetic
changes in offspring that are related to the development of
leukemia and brain cancer.
Scientists say the findings could lead to a cause of a childhood
leukemia cluster in Fallon, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported
Thursday.
Seventeen children with ties to the community 60 miles east of
Reno have been diagnosed with the disease. Three have died.
The scientists said the mouse study's results need to be
verified with further gene tests, but said the preliminary findings
give weight to the theory that leukemia clusters in Fallon and in
Sierra Vista, Ariz., might be related to environmental exposure to
heavy metals.
Floyd Sands, whose daughter, Stephanie, 21, died of leukemia in
2001, said the study goes far beyond the work done by federal
agencies in Fallon several years ago. The agencies couldn't find
any environmental causes for the cluster.
"Fortunately, real research is finally being done in Fallon,"
Sands said. "The independent scientists are getting somewhere.
It's because of these dedicated people, we still have hope an
answer will be found."
The 21 researchers, who presented findings at a biology
conference in San Francisco this month, concluded that
"environmental metals exposure, specifically arsenic and tungsten,
probably does play a role in the development of these childhood
leukemia clusters."
Mark L. Witten, a University of Arizona research professor of
pediatrics and study co-author, said the mouse "pups" exhibited
the gene changes associated with leukemia and brain cancer, but
it's unknown whether the mice eventually would have developed
either or both diseases.
"Have we definitively said that tungsten-arsenic can cause
leukemia in a mouse? No," he said. "We don't claim to say that.
We're saying the genes (have been changed) just like they are in
humans who develop leukemia or brain cancer."
But he said the effects of the tungsten-arsenic exposure on the
genes were so striking that "the odds of this being a random
occurrence are just mind-boggling. It's hard to think that it's not
somehow related to the leukemia cluster."
Previous studies by government scientists released in 2004
showed high levels of the metal tungsten and arsenic in Fallon
residents' urine and water supplies. Since then, the town's new
treatment plant has filtered arsenic from the municipal water
supply.
Tungsten is naturally occurring in Nevada, so scientists
couldn't tell if the source of the metal in Fallon was natural or
industrial.

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