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Approved Research

Investigating the role of air pollution in tumour initiation across cancer types.

Principal Investigator: Dr Kevin Litchfield
Approved Research ID: 82693
Approval date: September 14th 2022

Lay summary

The average levels of certain air pollutants in the UK currently exceed that recommended by the World Health Organisation. Therefore, determining the health effects of air pollution is an imperative public health matter. Our 12-month project specifically focusses on the relationship between air pollution and cancer. We seek to determine not just which cancer types are caused by different air pollutants, but also how these pollutants might cause this disease. Our hope is that by enhancing understanding of air pollution as a cause of cancer, measures can be planned and taken to reduce the risk to the public and help decrease the number of people who develop this disease.

It has been established that air pollution is a cause of lung cancer, and it has been linked to other types of cancer too. When inhaled, the different types of air pollution can have different effects on the body. Certain particles that constitute air pollution can be inhaled into the lungs or swallowed and can enter the bloodstream, from where they can travel all around the body. Therefore, it is likely that not just the body surface, but also the internal organs are exposed to air pollution. Consequently, it is important to determine the parts of the body most vulnerable to the cancer-causing effect of specific pollutants. Furthermore, we believe that the immune system is involved in this process. Therefore, we will investigate whether this is the case, and if so, how this can be used therapeutically for the benefit of patients.

Scope extension:

Motivated by our epidemiological findings linking cancer incidence and air pollution across multiple countries, we wish to firstly leverage the high quality and comprehensive data afforded by the UK Biobank to verify these findings and determine if they generalize across cancer types. Furthermore, we aim to elucidate the mechanistic basis by which air pollution might contribute to tumorigenesis by extending our findings from murine model systems.

We are now interested in how air pollutants might influence both the incidence and progression of brain tumours. We aim to leverage multivariable regression methods (as we have done within the current scope) to analyse whether participants who were diagnosed with a brain tumour and were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced a shorter survival time than those who experienced lower pollution levels.