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Approved research

Workplace exposure to airborne particles and the association with diabetes and dementia in a large population cohort study

Principal Investigator: Mrs Eirini Dimakakou
Approved Research ID: 42084
Approval date: July 18th 2018

Lay summary

There are many occupations that are exposed to airborne particles. Some exposures in the workplace are very similar to environmental pollution, mainly where there is potential exposure to combustion aerosol, such as diesel soot, or fume. Ultrafine particles are encountered in both ambient air and at the workplace. In workplaces, ultrafine particles are found in metal and polymer fumes and can induce acute inflammation responses in the lung upon inhalation. Aerosols can exist as airborne dusts, smokes, fumes and sprays. In the occupational environment all these forms are important because they are connected to a range of occupational diseases. Airborne dust is of particular concern because it is associated with classical occupational diseases such as silicosis. In many cases the hazard arises because of the chemical composition or nature of the dust, e.g. arsenic and crystalline silica, or the shape and durability of the particle, e.g. asbestos. The primary step in the control of hazards is their recognition. In order to achieve this, there is a need to understand their nature, origin and the conditions of exposure. This project will focus on particulate exposure to low-toxicity dust and fume exposure in the workplace. It is intended to investigate the association between exposure to dust and fumes such as mineral dusts with low crystalline silica content, particulate air pollution, diesel engine exhaust particulate and exclude materials such as toxic metals, asbestos, crystalline silica. We wish to carry out an epidemiological study to investigate the association between occupational and environmental exposure to fine airborne particulate matter and both diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. The main aim of the research is to investigate the causality between occupational and environmental exposure and both diabetes and dementia, through their common link and the inflammation mechanism. The work will form the basis of a PhD research project at Heriot Watt University (HWU). This will be the first study to investigate both occupational and environmental exposures in relation to these diseases. The data could allow more reliable estimates to be made of occupational disease burden associated with these exposures and the reduction in the incidence new disease that could be achieved by better control of exposures. We need to ensure that policy and healthcare are based on the best possible evidence and this can be succeeded through research, in pursuit for a healthier and more sustainable future.