Diane Stearns on DU research



Heyoka Magazine: When did you start studying uranium and it’s effects on DNA; the genetic code in the cells of living organisms?

Diane Stearns: We started in 2001 with funding from the National Cancer Institute, through the Native American Cancer Research Partnership (NACRP). The NACRP is a collaboration between Northern Arizona University and the Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson. The goals of the NACRP are (1) To initiate robust cancer research programs at NAU that will enhance career development of NAU faculty and introduce, educate, and train students in fundamentals of cancer research; (2) To create stable and long term collaboration between NAU and AZCC in cancer research, prevention, education, and community outreach; and (3) To improve the effectiveness of NAU and AZCC in conducting activities aimed at reducing the disparity in cancer incidence and mortality in Native Americans in the Southwest.

My previous research focused on chromium, which is a heavy metal that is known to cause lung cancer. While we were pulling together our plans to apply for funding from NCI, we discovered that many Navajo (and in our case we currently have strongest ties with the Navajo Nation, the Hope tribe, the White Mountain Apache tribe and the Tohono O’odham Nation) had questions about uranium exposure. A literature search showed that not much work had been done on uranium as a heavy metal, and it was an obvious extension of our work to start looking at uranium.

HM: Were any of these questions from Navaho, Hopi or Apache Indians interested in knowing about the effects of exposure to the uranium miners; and this uranium exposure causing cancer, leukemia, etc.?

Diane Stearns: In my experience, the Navajo have been most interested in uranium health issues, especially as they relate to previous miners’ exposures, exposures to people other than miners, and pressure to reopen the mines. Other tribes have other concerns. The epidemiological data on tribe-specific cancer incidence and mortality is sparse.

HM: Did any of them ask about birth defects and deformities of their children?

Diane Stearns: I don’t know of specific families interested in birth defects, I do know of the Shields 1992 paper on birth defects in theShiprock area that showed a weak link.

HM: Have you seen this chemical and radiological study by the WHO? – http://www.wise-uranium.org/utox.html#ING

Diane Stearns: Yes, I have seen the peer-reviewed literature on chemical toxicity of uranium. The chemical toxicity to the kidney is well established.

HM: Do you mean this “Desert Shields” study Contamination of Persian Gulf War Veterans and Others by Depleted Uraniumby Leonard A. Dietz July 19, 1996 (last updated Feb. 21, 1999. http://www.wise-uranium.org/dgvd.html

Diane Stearns: Study on birth defects I was referring to was: Health Phys. 1992 Nov;63(5):542-51. Related Articles, Links

HM: What about the damaged DNA that is passed on to future generations?

Diane Stearns: Our study did not address birth defects or germ cell mutations. The Chinese hamster ovary cells that we used in our study are epithelial cells from the lining of the hamster ovary, they are not the egg cells. There is a review recently published (attached) that concludes birth defects may be possible.

Navajo birth outcomes in the Shiprock uranium mining area
Shields LM, Wiese WH, Skipper BJ, Charley B, Benally L.
Navajo Community College, Shiprock, NM 87420.

The role of environmental radiation in the etiology of birth defects, stillbirths, and other adverse outcomes of pregnancy was evaluated for 13,329 Navajos born at the Public Health Service/Indian Health Service Hospital in the Shiprock, NM, uranium mining area (1964-1981). More than 320 kinds of defective congenital conditions were abstracted from hospital records. Using a nested case-control design, families of 266 pairs of index and control births were interviewed. The only statistically significant association between uranium operations and unfavorable birth outcome was identified with the mother living near tailings or mine dumps. Among the fathers who worked in the mines, those of the index cases had histories of more years of work exposure but not necessarily greater gonadal dosage of radiation. Also, birth defects increased significantly when either parent worked in the Shiprock electronics assembly plant. Overall, the associations between adverse pregnancy outcome and exposure to radiation were weak and must be interpreted with caution with respect to implying a biogenetic basis.

PMID: 1399640 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

HM: Why do you think that little research has been conducted since the Manhattan Project; the development of the atomic bomb in the early 1940s?

Diane Stearns: I think people may have figured that radiation effects were the most important, including radon exposure in the mine shafts, and are fairly well understood. The recent and growing use of depleted uranium, which is less radioactive, opens up questions of chemical effects that may also apply to natural uranium.

HM: I understand you recently discovered that uranium can also damage DNA as a heavy metal, independent of its radioactive properties. What does this mean exactly?

Diane Stearns: Our discovery that uranium may damage DNA as a heavy metal means that we need to consider that uranium may be chronically harmful in ways that are not consistent with radioactivity. Our results suggest that just because there is no measurable radiation this does not mean that there is no appreciable exposure or risk. Uranium has long been known to be chemically toxic to kidney. However, little has been done to investigate any potential link between uranium as a heavy metal and cancer. Our study alone is not enough to establish uranium as a chemical carcinogen, but we think it raises the question and calls for more specific investigations.

HM: Do you know if anyone has done any research on cattle that have been contaminated by uranium; in terms of the way this can affect humans eating radioactive beef?

DS: I don’t know a lot about contaminated cattle. I did a literature search and found a few abstracts. I do know that on Navajo Nation, they may be more concerned with sheep than cattle.

2 Responses to “Diane Stearns on DU research”

  1. CaptD Says:

    Sad how “natives” tend to get the brunt of pollution, while those that profit the most are living far, far way!

    Liked and Tweeted…

  2. CaptD Says:

    See also Diane Stearns Publication list:

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