Investigating the link between road traffic pollution and leukaemia.

We need to find out more about the causes of leukaemia, the most common cancer in children. Prof Marco Vinceti will investigate the possible link between road pollution and childhood leukaemia. His research could lead to new ways to prevent children from developing the disease.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Motorized traffic and risk of childhood leukaemia.

  • Lead Researcher

    Professor Marco Vinceti

  • Research Centre

    University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Modena, Italy

  • Start Date

    1 December 2019

  • Duration

    36 months

  • Grant Amount


Marco Vinceti researcher wearing glasses


Leukaemia is the most common cancer affecting children and young people. We don’t know enough about what causes the disease to be able to prevent it. Recent studies have suggested that pollution from road traffic might increase a child’s chances of getting the disease. However, this link has not yet been definitively proven. In this project, Prof Marco Vinceti aims to study the link between road pollution and the risk of childhood leukaemia in Italy, where air pollution is a major health problem. He will recruit 100 children diagnosed with leukaemia in two regions of Italy to his study, as well as with 100 children without leukaemia. These children will be asked to donate blood, urine, and hair samples. In these samples, Prof Vinceti and his team will look for traces of chemicals known to be present in road pollution. From this, they will try and determine whether any particular chemical might be responsible for causing leukaemia in this group of children. The team will also install sensors outside the children’s homes to directly measure the amount of air pollution the children are exposed to where they live. Finally, the children and their families will complete a questionnaire relating to other factors which might also affect their risk of developing cancer.

Potential impact

Prof Vicenti’s project is the most detailed study of its kind to date to look at the link between road traffic pollution and childhood leukaemia. If this link is confirmed, it could strengthen recommendations for controlling air pollution in Italy and elsewhere. Ultimately, this work could help to prevent children developing leukaemia, as well as other health problems.

About the research team

Professor Vinceti is a Medical Doctor and an Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Medical School, Italy. Professor Vinceti also holds an adjunct position at the Department of Epidemiology of the Boston University School of Public Health. The project will involve international collaborators who will analyse and test samples for pollutant chemicals in cutting edge laboratories. This includes Professor Silvia Fustinoni at the University of Milan Medical School, Professor Bernhard Michalke at the German Research Center for Environmental Health – Helmholtz Zentrum München, and Professor Aristides Tsatsakis at the Laboratory of Toxicology of the University of Crete Medical School. This project will also involve Professor Susan Fairweather-Tait at the University of East Anglia and Professor Lauren Wise at Boston University School of Public Health, who will analyse the dietary intake factors of nutritional and toxicological interest.
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