Researchers study chemicals in food and effect on fetus

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cancer

A study on maternal exposure to chemicals found in foods, could
potentially do damage to manufacturers' attempts to assure the
public that processed products are safe to eat.

The ultimate aim of the EU-funded project is to contribute to improved child health by supplying data that will lead to better health policies, more effective food regulations, and higher standards of food quality, the researchers stated yesterday in describing the NewGeneris project.

The project involves researchers from 25 institutions in 16 EU member states, who have been given funds to investigate how exposure to chemicals in food and the environment during pregnancy is connected with childhood cancer and immune disorders.

The study fill focus on a number of chemicals including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in processed food, polluted air, tobacco smoke); heterocyclic amines (processed food); nitrosamines (food, water, tobacco smoke); acrylamide (processed food); mycotoxins (contaminated food); dioxin (contaminated food, polluted air); PCBs (contaminated food, polluted air); and ethanol (alcohol).

The researchers will be looking to ascertain the presence of these chemicals in the blood of mothers and children, but to follow through and establish the biological consequences of exposure.

Childhood cancer has increased during recent decades, as has the worldwide prevalence of childhood immune disorders such as asthma and eczema.

Childhood leukaemia in particular has become more prevalent, said project coordinator Professor Jos Kleinjans from Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

The increase must be attributed to something, he said. The scientists are working on two hypotheses, either that the increase in cancer incidences has been caused by a change in human genes, or by changes in the environment.

"It is unlikely that biological changes have taken place, so the environment is therefore the likely cause,"​ Kleinjans stated.

The project will also investigate relevant exposures of the fathers to chemicals. This is a relatively new area, although some work has been done in Norway and the UK.

Previous studies have already show that germ cells, from which sperm are formed, are affected by chemicals, but how this may impact upon a foetus is unknown. Evidence on exposure of men to radiation and the susceptibility to disease of their offspring indicates that a link is likely.

The researchers will use cohorts or biobanks in Norway, Denmark, the UK and Spain, and later on in the project, will also establish a biobank on the Greek island of Crete. Together, the banks represent a total of around 300,000 mother-child pairs, thus constituting one of the largest studies of its kind ever conducted.

Related topics Food safety & quality

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