The effect of air pollution during pregnancy on childhood cancer risk

Air pollution is known to cause a range of health problems for adults and children. Prof Dudley Shallcross is studying what effect that air pollution during pregnancy has on the unborn child’s risk of developing cancer later in life. This could lead to new public health measures to prevent cancer in children.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Assessment of potential health impacts from transplacental exposure to carcinogenic air pollutants.

  • Lead Researcher

    Professor Dudley Shallcross

  • Research Centre

    University of Bristol

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Bristol, United Kingdom, BS8 1TS

  • Start Date

    1 November 2019

  • Duration

    36 months

  • Grant Amount

    £349,833

Developing advanced MRI scanning to improve Wilms' tumour diagnosis

Overview

We know that air pollution contributes towards a range of health problems, such as heart and lung disease and even some cancers. Certain groups of people are more susceptible to air pollution, including children and pregnant women. Children and babies are thought to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of chemicals which cause cancer (carcinogens) because their bodies are still developing. However, we don’t know enough about exactly how air pollution might cause cancer in children.

Prof Dudley Shallcross is interested in the effects of air pollution in pregnant women and their unborn children. He thinks that tiny particles in air pollution might cross the placenta and affect the health of the developing foetus. Prof Shallcross and his colleagues plan to study this in Thailand, where air pollution is a major public health concern.

Pregnant women in two locations in Bangkok in Thailand, will be recruited to their study, between 30 and 50 women from each location. The researchers will measure the amount of pollution that these women are exposed to, looking at a range of different particles and chemicals present in the air where they live.

The women will donate blood and urine samples, and samples of the placenta and umbilical cord blood once their babies are born. From these samples, the team in Thailand will look for signs of changes taking place in the body which might put the babies at risk of developing cancer in the future.

From the data collected during the project, and by measuring air pollution in Bristol, the team will be able to estimate the childhood cancer risk associated with air pollution in Thailand and the UK.

Potential impact

This project will study exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, and the effect it has on the risk of cancer in their children. This important research could strengthen public health measures against air pollution across the world, and could reveal new information about how childhood cancers start. Ultimately, the research could help to prevent children from developing cancer.

About the research team

This project will be led by Professor Dudley Shallcross, a Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the University of Bristol. The project combines two research teams, the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Group at the University of Bristol (ACRG) and the Chulabhorn Research Institute (CRI) in Thailand.  The ACRG are world leaders in the measurement of a wide range of air pollutants, whilst the CRI conducted some of the first ever studies looking at the effects of high and low levels of air pollution on children.