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January 3, 2007 • Volume 4 / Number 1 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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DCEG Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Benzene Research Collaboration with China
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In December, investigators from NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) and the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) celebrated the 20th anniversary of collaboration on studies of occupational exposures to benzene. A ceremony recognizing the key players behind the development of this collaboration was attended by the Chinese and U.S. collaborators.

This binational, multidisciplinary effort was established in 1986 to expand an existing cohort study of occupational benzene exposures led by Drs. Songnian Yin and Guilan Li of the Institute of Occupational Health and Poison Control (IOHPC) at the China CDC. The expanded study included a follow-up of approximately 75,000 benzene-exposed workers and 35,000 unexposed workers from more than 700 factories and 12 cities in China.

"This long-standing collaboration has resulted in a series of high-impact findings that have contributed substantially to our understanding of dose-response relationships and biologic mechanisms of benzene carcinogenicity in humans," said Dr. Martha Linet, chief of DCEG's Radiation Epidemiology Branch. Dr. Linet, along with DCEG investigators Drs. Richard Hayes, Nathaniel Rothman, Mustafa Dosemeci, Qing Lan, Roel Vermeulen, Stephen Chanock, Bu-Tian Ji, Graca Dores, and Sholom Wacholder have worked on this collaboration.

In a 1997 paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, lead author Dr. Hayes explained, "We found conclusive evidence that workers exposed to benzene were at significantly higher risk of developing acute non-lymphocytic leukemia (ANLL), myelodysplastic syndromes, and possibly non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)." Risk was found to be increased at doses initially determined to be safe, and the risk of hematologic outcomes differed by temporal exposure patterns; recent exposure in workers was most strongly linked to ANLL and myelodysplastic syndromes.

In parallel research efforts, NCI investigators and their collaborators have made steady progress in elucidating the mechanisms of benzene-induced carcinogenesis and biomarkers of benzene's early effects, as well as identifying genetic markers of susceptibility. In 2004, a paper by Dr. Lan and colleagues in Science showed evidence of hematotoxicity in workers exposed to under 1 ppm benzene, the current U.S. occupational standard. Findings from both cohort and molecular epidemiological studies have contributed to lowering the benzene occupational standard in China and greatly affected the risk assessment process for environmental exposures in the U.S.

Dignitaries from IOHPC and the China CDC attended the December ceremony. Dr. Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., DCEG director, honored Drs. Yin and Li for their commitment to benzene research in China and for their early case-control study, which served as inspiration for this 20-year partnership.

Other guests at the ceremony included Dr. Chunming Chen, former director of the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine; Dr. Anshou Zhou, vice director of IOHPC; Dr. William Blot, the former lead investigator at NCI, now with the International Epidemiology Institute and Vanderbilt University; Dr. Martyn Smith of the University of California, Berkeley; Dr. Robert Rinsky of HHS; and Dr. Babasaheb Sonawane of EPA.