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Originally published May 15 2008

Arsenic Exposure During Pregnancy Activates Genes That Cause Cancer Later in Life

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The children of women who are exposed to arsenic during pregnancy may be at an increased risk of cancer later in life due to the activation of a certain suite of genes, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Researchers examined data on 32 mothers and their children in a region of Thailand that has been severely contaminated by arsenic from tin mining. They analyzed toenail clippings of mothers to determine their arsenic exposure during pregnancy, and then analyzed the umbilical cords of children to get their genetic profiles.

"We were looking to see whether we could have figured out if these babies were exposed in utero [just from their gene expression]," said researcher Leona Samson, director of MIT's Center for Environmental Health Sciences. "The answer was a resounding yes."

The researchers found that prenatal arsenic exposure was correlated with a change in the expression of approximately 450 genes. Prior research has linked these changes in gene expression to an increased risk of cancer.

"In mice, when mothers are transiently exposed to arsenic in the drinking water, their progeny, in their adult life, are much more cancer-prone," Samson said.

According to study co-author Rebecca Fry, researchers are planning to follow the children over the long-term to track the effects of their exposure to arsenic.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is widely used in a variety of industrial applications. It is toxic in higher concentrations, and forms the base of many insecticides. Long-term exposure to slightly lower concentrations can cause discoloration of the skin and the development of corns and warts, while concentrations on the order of even one part per billion can cause disruptions to the hormonal system.

According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, high-level arsenic exposure is most common among those living near hazardous waste sites or working in facilities using or contaminated with arsenic.

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