Natural 'breakdown' of chemicals predicts lung damage in 9/11 firefighters

September 03, 2018

Abnormal levels of more than two dozen metabolites -- chemicals produced in the body as it breaks down fats, proteins and carbohydrates -- can reliably predict which Sept. 11 firefighters developed lung disease and which did not, a new analysis shows.

Researchers say the results, published by NYU School of Medicine researchers in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research online Sept. 4, could lead to metabolic tests for early detection of lung damage in all disaster victims exposed to fine particles from fire, smoke, and toxic chemicals, not just 9/11 firefighters.

The study, researchers say, offers the first evidence that metabolite blood tests conducted within months of the disaster could still help in the detection of obstructive airway disease, or OAD. Such analysis could aid in diagnosing OAD in the roughly 9,000 firefighters exposed to toxic chemicals at the World Trade Center (WTC) on Sept. 11, 2001, or during the cleanup that followed.

Senior study investigator Anna Nolan, MD, says the team hopes to develop a precise chemical profile of firefighters most at risk of developing OAD -- including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and/or emphysema -- by analyzing fluid samples from 9/11 firefighters not included in the current study.

Nolan, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, says her team's findings raise the possibility that correcting metabolic imbalances -- through dietary changes or food supplements -- could ward off or even reverse loss of lung function. Already, the team has plans to test a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, known for its ability to rebalance the body's metabolites, for its potential effects on the firefighters' lung health.

"Healthy lung function is essential for everyone, but especially firefighters, to carry out their work," says Nolan. She says all firefighters, including those exposed to toxic chemicals on or after 9/11, are routinely monitored through annual physical and medical exams, and "decreases in their lungs' strength to inhale or blow out air are a sign of respiratory ill health."

Nolan says previous research has shown that nearly one in 10 firefighters exposed to dust at the WTC site is showing signs of lung injury. She says the WTC dust was laden with dangerous heavy metals, such as chromium and mercury, in addition to powdered concrete and toxic fibrous glass, asbestos, and components of jet fuel. When firefighters inhaled some of the dust at the disaster site, she says, it amounted to a slow chemical burning of their lung tissue that, in turn, led to chronic inflammation and lung injury.

For the current study, led by co-investigators George Crowley and Sophia Kwon, DO, MPH, the NYU Langone team analyzed blood levels of 580 metabolites frequently found in the body. All samples came from 9/11 firefighters who were tested within seven months of the disaster, and whose lung function has been tested annually ever since. Researchers matched 15 firefighters whose lung function had sharply declined by 2015 with 15 whose lung function had remained healthy, despite similar levels of exposure to WTC dust. Advanced computer software was then used to analyze the large volume of metabolite data.

When researchers plotted all metabolites on graphs, various chemical groups stood out as highly predictive of the majority of cases of OAD and lung injury.

Key among them were: Nolan says it is likely that metabolic imbalances contribute to the chronic inflammation that underlies most OAD and lung injury.
-end-
The study was funded by National Institutes of Health grants R01 HL119326, U01 OH011300, and contract #200-2011-3978, as well as UL1 TR000038 and the Saperstein Scholars Fund.

Both Crowley and Kwon received American Thoracic Society abstract awards and scholarships for their research efforts.

Besides Nolan, Crowley, and Kwon, other NYU Langone investigators involved in this study are Syed Hissam Haider, MD; Erin Caraher, MS; Rachel Lam, BS; David St. Jules, PhD; and Mengling Lui, PhD. Additional research support was provided by David Prezant, MD, at Albert Einstein Medical College in Bronx, NY.

Media Inquiries:

David March
212-404-3528
david.march@nyulangone.org

NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

Related Lung Function Articles from Brightsurf:

Exercised over nothing: Masks don't impair lung function during physical activity
A team of American and Canadian researchers report that while they may feel uncomfortable, there is little empirical evidence that wearing a facemask significantly diminishes lung function, even when worn during heavy exercise.

Lung, immune function in kids could protect from severe COVID-19
Differences in lung physiology and immune function in children could be why they are more often spared from severe illness associated with COVID-19 than adults.

Identification of new factors important in maintaining lung function in the elderly
Japanese researchers have found that elderly carriers of a specific DsbA-L gene type are at increased risk for lung function decline.

Weight gain associated with accelerated lung function decline in adulthood
Lung function declines naturally over the course of the human lifespan.

Inhaled immunosuppressant may increase survival, pulmonary function after lung transplant
University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found that lung transplant recipients who had early signs of organ rejection could increase their chances of survival by inhaling a liposomal form of the immunosuppression drug cyclosporine through an investigational nebulizer.

Exposure to BPA in the womb linked to wheezing and poorer lung function in children
Pregnant women exposed to higher levels of the commonly used chemical bisphenol A (BPA) are more likely to have children who suffer with wheezing and poorer lung function, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

Exposure to outdoor air pollutants, change in emphysema, lung function
Whether exposure to outdoor air pollutants is associated with emphysema progression and change in lung function was the focus of this observational study.

Girls who are more physically active in childhood may have better lung function in adolescence
A study of more than 2,300 adolescents underscores the pulmonary health benefits of physical activity.

Exposure to chemicals before and after birth is associated with a decrease in lung function
A European study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, analyses for the first time the impact of the exposome on respiratory health.

Common e-cigarette chemical flavorings may impair lung function
Two chemicals widely used to flavor electronic cigarettes may be impairing the function of cilia in the human airway, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H.

Read More: Lung Function News and Lung Function Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.