Formaldehyde exposure and increased risk of developing MND

A new study published yesterday in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (JNNP) highlights the link between increased exposure to formaldehyde and an increased risk of developing MND.

The study in the USA was conducted by Andrea Roberts and colleagues at the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Harvard. They investigated whether a person’s exposure to formaldehyde in their occupation increased their risk of developing motor neurone disease (MND).20141020_MND Kings College_290

Formaldehyde is a colourless chemical that is used as a preservative in mortuaries, medical laboratories and by undertakers. Exposure occurs primarily by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapour from the air or by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin.

The study found that those with a ‘high intensity’ and probability of exposure to formaldehyde had nearly four times higher risk of developing MND compared to people who had no exposure to formaldehyde. All participants that fitted these criteria were funeral directors. The increased risk of developing MND in this occupation group was only found in men, with no link found for women.

What do these results mean?
‘High intensity’ refers to the frequency and level of exposure to formaldehyde as part of the study participant’s occupation and industry type. The probability of exposure reflected how likely they were to come into contact with this chemical as part of their occupation.

The difference in results for men and women are because fewer women work as funeral directors, and so are less likely to come into contact with formaldehyde. This made the sample size too small to detect possible increased risk of MND in this study.

This is the first time formaldehyde has been identified as a possible cause of MND and further studies are needed to confirm the results from this study. Two other studies have found no link between estimated occupational formaldehyde exposure and MND. However, these studies looked at occupations where the intensity of exposure was generally lower than in this study.

MND is an extremely rare disease, and people have up to a 1 in 300 chance of developing MND in their lifetime. In comparison, people have up to a 1 in 2 chance of developing cancer (1). The results from this study showing four-times increased risk equates to approximately a 1 in 75 chance of funeral directors developing MND.

Lifestyle and environmental factors and MND
It is not known exactly how environmental and lifestyle factors could increase or decrease the risk of developing MND. Occupational risk factors have been studied, including the possible links between military service and developing MND/ALS, and a person’s exposure to heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals.

MND is a complex disease which is still not fully understood, but any research that can contribute to the growing knowledge of causes and contributing factors can only help our progress in understanding MND. A study last year into the causes of MND found that up to six different genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors are needed in order to trigger the disease. Therefore many more studies need to be conducted in order to establish the causes of MND.

The researchers of this study into exposure to formaldehyde have stressed that caution should be applied when interpreting these results, not least because jobs involving high levels of formaldehyde exposure are uncommon and MND is a rare disease.

Useful Links
Online article in the Independent (published 14/07/2015)
Research information sheet A: Overview of MND
More information on the causes of MND
More information on Formaldehyde

Research paper: Roberts AL, Johnson NJ, Cudkowicz ME et al. J Neurol Neurosurg Pyschiatry. 2015  Published online 14/07/2015 doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2015-310750

1. Cancer Research UK (2015), Trends in the lifetime risk of developing cancer in Great Britain: Comparison of risk for those born in 1930 to 1960, Cancer Research UK.

MIROCALS: Episode MND

A clinical trial of Jedi proportions…

The MND Association is backing a new clinical trial in MND, known as MIROCALS. This will be a joint clinical trial between France and the UK that will aim to dampen the overactive immune system by increasing the amount of interleukin-2.

It is important to stress that planning for this MND clinical trial has only just started and the next step is to lay the essential groundwork and perform some short-term pilot studies. The main trial is likely to begin recruiting participants in autumn 2016.

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An insight into TDP-43 – An ENCALS 2015 meeting report

Dr Jakub Scaber, University of Oxford, UK

Dr Jakub Scaber, University of Oxford, UK

Medical Research Council (MRC)/ MND Association Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Fellow, Dr Jakub Scaber, attended the European Network for a Cure of ALS (ENCALS) meeting from 21-23 May 2015.

Reporting back from the event in Dublin, Dr Scaber summarised the TDP-43 session, including his presentation on recent developments in his own Association-funded research:

The fifth session of the ENCALS meeting focussed on a protein called TDP-43: This is the protein that accumulates in the brains of people living with MND and has been tightly linked to the development of the disease. Abnormal forms of this protein can be found in 98% of cases and this session had some very interesting basic science discoveries around this topic. Continue reading

ProGas study results on gastrostomy in MND published

Under the leadership of Dr Christopher McDermott, based at the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), research published today on 29 May 2015 in the Lancet Neurology highlights that better weight management in MND is key to survival.

Following on from initial results presented at the 25th International Symposium on ALS/MND in December 2014, the Prospective Gastrostomy (ProGas) study in MND aimed to investigate the optimal timing for gastrostomy in MND due to the lack of evidence available.

Dr Chris McDermott (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, University of Sheffield)

Dr Chris McDermott (Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, University of Sheffield)

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Nurturing the future of MND research – new opportunity for researchers

We are pleased to announce that as well as applications for our next round for PhD Studentship applications, we are also accepting applications for our brand new Non-Clinical Fellowship scheme. These fellowships are aimed at early career researchers across a range of disciplines, allowing them to take the reins of their very own research project. University of NottinghamMNDA ResearchPicture by Vicky Matthers iconphotomedia Continue reading

Breaking the Human Genome Code

Dr Johnathan Cooper-KnockProfessor Winston Hide gave his inaugural lecture on 17 March, during Brain Awareness week, entitled ‘breaking the human genome code – opening Pandora’s box’, which you can watch in full at the end of this blog post.

Professor Hide recently joined the University of Sheffield, and MND Association/ Medical Research Council (MRC) Lady Edith Wolfson Clinical Research Fellow, Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock has written a blog below about Professor Hide’s research and how they are working together towards a world free from MND: Continue reading

The TBK1 jigsaw puzzle

samplesFollowing on from the identification of the gene TBK1 as a contributory risk factor for MND in February, the plot thickens further with research published yesterday by Dr Jochen Weishaupt and colleagues.

Published in Nature Neuroscience, the team found mutations in the TBK1 gene as a cause of both inherited MND and frontotemporal dementia in Germany and Sweden. Continue reading

Researchers identify the TBK1 gene as a risk factor in MND

recyclePublished on 19 February 2015 in the Journal Science, an international team of scientists have found mutations in the gene TBK1 as a contributory risk factor in MND.

Identifying TBK1

The majority of cases of MND are caused by a combination of subtle genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. These subtle genetic factors in the majority of cases of MND (sometimes known as susceptibility genes) may increase someone’s risk of developing MND, but they do not solely cause the disease (they must be present in combination with a number of other factors in order to tip the balance for someone to develop MND). Find out more here.

Under the leadership of Dr Goldstein, based at Columbia University, the researchers have identified a new MND susceptibility gene – TBK1.  The researchers used whole genome sequencing to sequence the entire DNA of over 2,874 MND samples in America – you can find out more about this technique here. By screening a large number of samples, the researchers identified mutations in the TBK1 gene as a common subtle genetic factor involved in some cases of MND in America. Continue reading

Buckets more research – some of our plans for the Ice Bucket Challenge money

Today’s announcement of the difference the ALS / MND ice bucket challenge has made included a number of areas of research investment. You’ll be hearing much more about these as our plans develop, but here are three examples to give you a flavour of things to come.

ibc oxford

Oxford researchers get an icing!

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New fellowship awarded to further our understanding of RNA in MND

Dr Pietro Fratta (University College London) received his initial Training Fellowship through the MND Association/ Medical Research Council (MRC) Lady Edith Wolfson Programme in 2010. Starting on 1 February 2015, Dr Fratta was awarded a Clinician Scientist Fellowship to continue his research into MND.

LEWFP_Logo_BLACK

Totalling £1.16 million, of which the Association has committed to contribute £280,000, this new fellowship will allow Dr Fratta to find out what RNA molecules are present in both the cell body of the motor neuron, and the nerve fibres. Continue reading