Arsenic and Innate Immune Function of the Lung

Project Leader:
Bruce A. Stanton, Ph.D.
Director, Toxic Metals
Superfund Research Program
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Andrew C. Vail Professor
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Other Research Team Members:
Tom Hampton, M.S.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization have identified arsenic as the number one environmental chemical of concern with regard to human health. Arsenic ingestion from contaminated well water in South America and Asia is associated with increased rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and reproductive and developmental disease. Exposure to arsenic in utero and during early childhood also increases the incidence of acute and chronic bacterial infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and bronchiectasis. However, the effects of low levels of arsenic in drinking water, typically found in the U.S., on respiratory disease are unknown. In the U.S. approximately 25 million people drink well water containing arsenic that exceeds the level that the EPA considers safe (10 parts per billion). Moreover, most Americans are also exposed to organic forms of arsenic in rice and many rice based products, but the effects of organic forms of arsenic on respiratory function are unknown.

Accordingly, the goal of this Superfund research project is to determine if very low levels of inorganic arsenic found in well water and organic forms of arsenic in rice and rice based products have adverse effects on the ability of the immune system of the respiratory track to eliminate bacterial infections. This research is designed to test the hypothesis that levels of arsenic relevant to the U.S. population disrupt the innate immune response of lung cells and immune cells to the bacterial infection.

We anticipate that our studies will address a significant knowledge gap and will provide novel insight into the molecular mechanism(s) whereby very low concentrations of inorganic and organic forms of arsenic affect the innate immune response of the human lung to infection by bacteria, which causes considerable disease and loss of life in the U.S. This new information will be communicated to our communities and stakeholders, including the Food and Drug Administration, as they consider setting standards for arsenic in food.

Recent Publications

Bruce Stanton Pubmed

Other Research

COBRE Lung Biology website