Biomarkers show chemical exposures and predict health risk.

Dec 15, 2008

van Leeuwen DM, RWH Gottschalk, G Schoeters, NA van Larebeke, V Nelen, WF Baeyens, JCS Kleinjans and JHM Delft. 2008. Transcriptome analysis in peripheral blood of humans exposed to environmental carcinogens: A Promising new biomarker in environmental health studies. Environmental Health Perspectives 116:1519–1525.

Synopsis by Benson T. Akingbemi

People living in agricultural areas of Belgium have higher blood levels of certain markers that identify chemical exposure than people living in nonagricultural areas.

Knowing who has been exposed and which populations are most at risk may help better monitor and predict diseases that are related to the chemical exposures.

A group of scientists in Belgium used a new, more precise way to identify the exposures. They determined -- using genetic techniques -- which genes from a clump of many reacted to the exposures by turning on and releasing proteins and other essential products into the blood.

These substances are called biomarkers of exposure. Biomarkers are produced by tissues in the body in response to the presence of chemicals or other foreign objects. Identifying biomarkers in people may indicate exposure to certain groups of chemicals and suggest there is a potential for disease as a consequence.

When produced in sufficient amounts, biomarkers may be readily measured in blood and urine. Therefore, developing a quick, easy and reliable  biomarker system has been a long standing goal of environmental toxicology.

In this study, the researchers measured the activity of several genes in the blood of 398 people living in areas with differing agricultural activity. Several of the genes were correlated to the presence of chemicals and their metabolites in urine. In addition, the authors investigated the potential for cancer disease by analyzing blood DNA.

There were obvious differences in gene expression profiles among human populations that related to their environmental exposure associated with the agricultural activity. The authors say the study "highlights the usefulness of biomonitoring programs for risk assessment of populations especially those living in heavily polluted environments."