A top Arkansas cancer researcher was awarded $224,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday to study genetic links in children included in the Fallon leukemia cluster.
Dr. Jill James, director of the study and a biologist at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Research Institute, told the Lahontan Valley News in April that her study will expand on the federal and state leukemia cluster investigation, which concluded earlier this year. The University of Nevada, Reno will provide administrative support for her research.
In the Fallon leukemia cluster 16 children have been diagnosed since 1997 and three have died. It's been about two years since the last case was added to the cluster.
She is interested in studying how a child's genetic makeup might increase his or her vulnerability to DNA damage from the metals found in Fallon's drinking water, and whether this could increase the child's risk of leukemia. Those metals include arsenic, antimony, tungsten and cobalt.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said James was chosen because of her reputation with researching arsenic. The money for this study was granted in the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's leukemia cluster investigation found 80 percent of the leukemia case families and control subjects tested had elevated levels of tungsten in urine samples, while only one person in 10 does nationally. High levels of several other metals were also found.
The investigation's expert panel, which released its final report in February, said the results did not explain the cause of the leukemia cluster, but it also said this cluster was not a chance occurrence.
James said she hopes to interview and take blood samples from all 13 of the case children and their mothers. She will have two control groups, one from Fallon and another from Ark0y of the metals in the Fallon environment.
Even though the CDC concluded that no single metal exposure could explain an increased risk of cancer, James is considering that the combined exposure to several of the metals that are known to damage DNA could be additive and sufficient to trigger the disease.
Fallon resident Jeff Braccini, whose son was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in December 2001, said he is glad to hear this news but there is still a lot more to do.
"We knew it was coming and we're glad it finally came through," he said. "This is a very good thing. It continues research but there still is a lot more to do."
He said Families in Search of Truth, a non-profit organization devoted to finding the truth behind the cause of the Fallon leukemia cluster, complied a list of independent researchers to do work on the cluster and James' name was on that list.
Becky Bosshart can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org