CDI Researchers Attend and Present in Symposium on PFAS and Cancer   

CDI Researchers Attend and Present in Symposium on PFAS and Cancer

Thought leaders share preliminary findings, insights, and hypotheses in call to action for collaboration on further research into–and solutions for–toxic “forever chemicals” in the body.

In a three-day workshop, scientists from various disciplines—from organic chemistry and microbiology and oncology, to environmental and chemical engineering— tackled the problems associated with per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), now estimated to be present in the tissues and bloodstreams of 99% of Americans.

The Consortium Center for PFAS and Cancer (CPAC) of Georgetown University, directed by Dr. Siva Dakshanamurthy, includes a collaboration with the Hackensack Meridian Health Center for Discovery & Innovation (HMH-CDI). The CPAC conducted a joint virtual symposium from March 6 to 8, into wide-ranging topics on PFAS detection, exposure, toxicity, cancer risk, and means for remediation in science and public health.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals,” in that they not only aren’t metabolized by the body—as well as being resistant to heat, water, and other breakdown methods—but they accumulate in humans, our food, and our water, even remaining intact in utero to be passed down to our children.

As scientists largely provided initial findings in their studies, their conclusions motivated working hypotheses for further research, as well as call-outs to colleagues on collaboration in next steps.

Among the presenters was Alvin Makohon-Moore, Ph.D., Assistant Member of the CDI and Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Sciences, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, and Benjamin Tycko, M.D., Ph.D., Member of the CDI and Professor of Medical Sciences in the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

In collaboration with Dr. Woo Lee at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Makohon-Moore presented data showing immune cell stress and metabolism when exposed to PFAS,, from which he derived a working hypothesis that PFAS might alter immune cell signaling and thereby promote cancer evolution. His call-out was to work with his attending colleagues to continue research on PFAS, not only in cancer cells, but in normal cell populations to see how inflammatory PFAS exposure might affect cancer risk. Dr. Tycko partnered with a colleague at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Marcin Iwanicki, to produce and present research findings suggesting that PFAS chemicals, which can be detected in the precursor tissues of ovarian cancers, may act via an inflammatory pathway to alter the patterns of DNA methylation in genes that are linked to ovarian cancer risk. Based on these findings, together with important work by other scientists at the Symposium, they suggested that DNA methylation could ultimately be used as a biomarker of PFAS exposures in human populations.

Springboarding from these and other findings on the first day of the symposium, other presenters would go on to reveal how PFAS invade the placenta and carry to the baby in childbirth, potentially posing multiple risks to fetal and neonatal health, possibly bringing on childhood leukemia to segments of the population.

Over the next two days, the topic shifted from PFAS risk factors, detection and toxicity, to both public policy and private-sector remediation.

As keynote speaker on the third day of the symposium, Susan Burden, Ph.D., of the Environmental Protection Agency stated while policy change is slow, there is progress being made in both mandatory and voluntary shifts in the standards of corporate-industrial America to adjust their chemical processes in provisions across all industries.

The consensus: the process of removing forever chemicals from their current state of accumulation in our bodies, and in our sources of food, water, and air is a complex problem to solve, and involves more than just ceasing their release into the environment.

Change must be safe, sustainable, and accessible on all sides by producers and consumers, according to the experts.

Sydney Evans, senior scientist at Environmental Working Group (EWG), argued the onus for change is also, albeit unfairly, on the shoulders of consumers to mitigate their exposure to PFAS by purchasing effective home water filters. This is to combat PFAS at its most prevalent source in drinking water, and so that consumer diligence may prompt the market to help reduce such exposure in other ways.

The CPAC joint symposium ended with some open questions in terms of experimentation, but also culminated in a resolution to work hand-in-hand among all event attendees to share their information and findings in research to align common goals of identifying, remediating, and someday eliminating, the harmful effects of PFAS in our ecosystem, and in ourselves.

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