Fallon leukemia cluster genetic test results to be released | NevadaAppeal.com

Fallon leukemia cluster genetic test results to be released

VIKTORIA PEARSON
Nevada Appeal News Service

FALLON – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release the results of genetic tests that were conducted as part of the investigation of the Churchill County childhood leukemia cluster.

The release to media, case families and control families will be from 9-11 a.m. Nov. 29 at the Western Nevada Community College Fallon Campus, 160 Campus Way.

The study follows efforts by scientists from Arizona and federal and independent investigators searching for a cause to the Fallon’s leukemia cluster, a medical mystery that has affected 17 children and their families since 1997 and taken the lives of three.

According to the CDC in February 2003, genetic testing was to be the next phase in the investigative process. The testing was conducted using DNA from study participants, according to the press release.

“This is in fact the genetic testing results CDC said would be studied in 2003,” said Rachel Powell, media officer for the center.

According to the center’s Web site, the participants were to consist of case families and control families who would undergo testing of a gene that directs production of a protein, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).

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The protein is important to the body’s production of folic acid, according to the Web site. It is necessary to prevent birth defects and has been linked to possible prevention of cancer and heart disease.

Under certain environmental factors, one form of the protein has been linked to increased risks of birth defects like spina bifida and may be related to cancer risks.

There is some scientific evidence that having one of these forms of MTHFR may protect against the development of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the leukemia in the 17 Fallon cases.

The CDC has performed research to select genes susceptible to leukemia in the past. This is only one of 17 possible variants to be included in the study, according to a previous article in March 2003.

The state began its investigation in 2000 when a rise in cases came to its attention. After nine cases were diagnosed in one year it became a topic of importance to the CDC and the investigation went back to subsequent years where more cases were found.

Substantial testing of the water supply found arsenic to higher than the recommended federal guidelines. Urine and blood samples were taken from 14 of the 17 leukemia case families and randomly selected comparison families in the community.

Approximately 205 people gave samples to be studied. Environmental samples, including indoor air, play-yard soil, household dust and tap water samples were taken from all participants homes for the study.

Arsenic was found to exceed the health-based levels in 34 percent of the study population, according to reports. The arsenic levels were significant enough to require a county water treatment plant to be implemented.

Although significant levels of arsenic were recorded the CDC did not find a correlation between the arsenic and the leukemia cases.

High traces of tungsten were also found during the investigation, according to previous reports. However, the CDC said there was no cause able to be determined in these cases.

A total of 17 cases have been diagnosed including the latest case, a toddler, who was diagnosed in December 2004. The latest case came two years after the 16th case was reported. No cases have been reported since December 2004.

According to the Nevada Division of Health, there must be a five year span between cases in order to officially declare the cluster over.

• Contact reporter Viktoria Pearson at vpearson@lahontanvalleynews.com/