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April 2013

Sacramento High School Student to Present Original Research at International Pulmonary Medicine Conference

Melanie Fu, a junior at St. Francis High School in Sacramento, CA will be presenting her original research on the effects of tobacco exposure on the lungs at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Philadelphia in May. The ATS International Conference is the premier world conference in pulmonary research and medicine.
Ms. Fu is a volunteer high school student researcher in the high school summer research program at the Center for Health and the Environment at the University of California, Davis. Her research addressed the question of whether exposure to tobacco smoke could cause irreversible injury and changes in the lungs. Working with archived tissue sections from animals exposed to tobacco smoke for 12 weeks and then allowed to recover for up to 6 weeks, Ms. Fu used a microscope connected to a camera to capture digital images which were then analyzed using a computer program to quantify changes in alveolar airspace size.
“I've been interested in science since I was a kid,” said Ms. Fu. “Ultimately, I would like to have a career in the medical field, but I would love to pursue research as well.  I think that research is a direct and meaningful way to make waves in the world.”
 “I have had the privilege to work with Melanie since she first came to my laboratory last summer as a volunteer, having just completed the 10th grade,” said Kent Pinkerton, Professor of Pediatrics (School of Medicine), Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology (School of Veterinary Medicine), and Director of the Center for Health and the Environment at the University of California, Davis. “Melanie worked with us in the laboratory four full days each week over a period of 9 weeks. The one day she was not working with us, she was directing a children’s summer program. Since Melanie was too young to drive, her parents would bring her each day to the University laboratory to conduct her research. During this current school year extending beyond summer, Melanie has continued to interact with us to further expand her studies. Melanie is an incredible student with exceptional abilities and talents she continues to demonstrate in all my interactions with her over the past 10 months.”
“Melanie’s work was so amazing and professionally done, I encouraged her to prepare an abstract for submission to the ATS conference,” said Dr. Pinkerton. “Together, we helped her to prepare an abstract titled, Persistence of Structural and Functional Changes in the Lungs of Rats Following Cessation to Tobacco Smoke Exposure.  Melanie’s abstract has been accepted for presentation in a poster session at the ATS conference. This is a truly amazing accomplishment for a high school student.”
Ms Fu adds that she is “very excited and humbled to be able to present, but I'm even more excited to experience this direct and eye-opening window into the amazing work that is going on in the international pulmonary research community.”


Asbestos Exposure, Asbestosis, and Smoking Combined Greatly Increase Lung Cancer Risk

The chances of developing lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure, asbestosis and smoking are dramatically increased when these three risk factors are combined, and quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of developing lung cancer after long-term asbestos exposure, according to a new study.

“The interactions between asbestos exposure, asbestosis and smoking, and their influence on lung cancer risk are incompletely understood,” said lead author Steven B. Markowitz, MD DrPH, professor of occupational and environmental medicine at the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at Queens College in New York. “In our study of a large cohort of asbestos-exposed insulators and more than 50,000 non-exposed controls, we found that each individual risk factor was associated with increased risk of developing lung cancer, while the combination of two risk factors further increased the risk and the combination of all three risk factors increased the risk of developing lung cancer almost 37-fold.”

The findings were published online ahead of print publication in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study included 2,377 long-term North American insulators and 54,243 male blue collar workers with no history of exposure to asbestos from the Cancer Prevention Study II. Causes of death were determined from the National Death Index.

Among non-smokers, asbestos exposure increased the rate of dying from lung cancer 5.2-fold, while the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure increased the death rate more than 28-fold. Asbestosis increased the risk of developing lung cancer among asbestos-exposed subjects in both smokers and non-smokers, with the death rate from lung cancer increasing 36.8-fold among asbestos-exposed smokers with asbestosis.

Among insulators who quit smoking, lung cancer morality dropped in the 10 years following smoking cessation from 177 deaths per 10,000 among current smokers to 90 per 10,000 among those who quit. Lung cancer rates among insulators who had stopped smoking more than 30 years earlier were similar to those among insulators who had never smoked.

There were a few limitations to the study, including the fact that smoking status and asbestosis were evaluated only once and that some members of the control group could have been exposed to relatively brief periods of asbestos.

“Our study provides strong evidence that asbestos exposure causes lung cancer through multiple mechanisms,” said Dr. Markowitz. “Importantly, we also show that quitting smoking greatly reduces the increased lung cancer risk seen in this population.”