Nashville firefighters help in Vanderbilt study focusing on 9/11
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - As firefighters put out wildfires in Sevier County, Vanderbilt researchers are looking into how smoke and chemicals impact their blood in the long term.
It started when the research team was asked to look at DNA of first responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“I just wanted to learn what is this? What is this disease?” Lianfei Xu said.
When Xu’s father passed away from leukemia, she wanted to know if she was at risk. So, she turned to Dr. Michael Savona at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“He said you may not, probably not, benefit you but the information he collects from and uses for his research, in the long run, will benefit people,” Xu said. “I’m like yeah, sure why not?”
“And though we didn’t find any heritable changes in her DNA – we looked to see if she had any somatic changes in her blood,” Savona said.
He and his team look for similar changes in a new study. This one analyzes the DNA of 9/11 firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center.
“I have some collaborators in NYC who said we have samples from the firefighters exposed to WTC dust, and this might be a good cohort to test Clonal hematopoiesis, which is precancer that we study,” Savona said.
That’s a mouthful, so Sadova calls it “chip.” It’s where mutations develop in a person’s blood that don’t get fixed. So, they become to changes in firefighters’ bone marrow leading to blood cancers.
“The idea here was to take the cohort of firefighters and first responders in NYC and say, well, do they actually have an increased risk of developing cancer with this precancer in their blood?” Savona said. “And the only real way to do that is to look at firefighters not exposed to WTC dust.”
Savona said they used the DNA of over 200 Davidson County firefighters. It’s DNA they already have in their database.
“We took that WTC dust to the lab and found some pretty nasty things in it,” Savona said.
With the help of Nashville firefighters’ DNA, Savona’s team found 10% of 9/11 firefighters have mutations in their blood. That’s compared to 6.7% of firefighters not exposed to world trade center debris. Their DNA will help others in the future. Xu said she hopes hers will too.
“If my case can help next generational others, I have no problem throwing in my blood for that research,” Xu said.
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