September 6, 2011

UMaine researches effects of arsenic

What effects do low levels of arsenic have on the immune system and cystic fibrosis?

That's the focus of new research at the University of Maine, funded by a $1.8 million National Institutes of Health grant.

The immune system's main role is to protect the body from infection. The study will explore the effects of arsenic on a healthy innate immune response to infection and one compromised by the gene mutation that causes cystic fibrosis.

The research by the university's immunologist Carol Kim is part of an $11 million grant to Dartmouth Medical School.

"Particularly in Maine and New Hampshire, as well as across the country, arsenic contamination -- both naturally occurring and human-produced pollution -- is a problem," said Kim, director of Maine's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. "We're trying to understand how arsenic exacerbates cystic fibrosis and the extent to which this effect is brought about by exposure to arsenic as an environmental toxicant."

Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease in the United States. An estimated 30,000 people in the United States have it.

-- Mechele Cooper

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