Uranium exposure linked to increased lupus rate

By | November 14, 2012

Image: colourful tailings ponds from the uranium processing plant.

Amanda Harper – People living near a former uranium ore processing facility in Ohio are experiencing a higher than average rate of lupus, according a new study conducted by scientists at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system and other organs of the body. The underlying causes of lupus are unknown, but it is usually more common in women of child-bearing age.

For this new study, a collaborative team of UC and Cincinnati Children’s researchers wanted to compare lupus rates between people who were exposed to uranium and those who were not in an effort to explain the high number of lupus cases reported in a Cincinnati community.

Extensive review of medical records and serum antibody analysis to verify the cases, concluded that people who were exposed to higher levels of uranium, based on their living proximity to a former uranium ore processing plant, had lupus rates four times higher than the average population.

“Former studies have suggested that people with lupus may be more sensitive to radiation and that both genetics and environmental exposures play a role in disease development. Our study shows a strong correlation between uranium exposure, a radioactive substance, and an increased lupus rate that merits further investigation,” says Pai-Yue Lu, MD, a pediatric rheumatology fellow at Cincinnati Children’s and lead researcher for the study.

“With more research in this area, we may gain additional insight on the types of environmental factors that contribute to lupus development and the mechanisms by which they work,” Lu adds. “There could be other effects of uranium and related exposures that could contribute to or help explain our findings.”

Lu is presenting this finding and its potential implication at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting Monday, Nov. 12, in Washington, D.C. She completed the project as part of her master’s degree in clinical and translational science training at UC. …

Almost 10,000 community residents enrolled in the Fernald Medical Monitoring Program. Community residents were classified into several exposure groups: high exposure, moderate exposure, low exposure and no exposure. (Uranium plant workers were not part of this study.)

“Typical U.S. incidence rates for lupus are 1.8 to 7.6 cases per 100,000. Among the 25 confirmed lupus cases we identified through the Fernald community cohort, 12 were in the high exposure group, eight with moderate exposure and five in the low exposure group,” says Lu. …

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