Higher Frequency of Blood Mutations in WTC First Responders

The collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) following the 9/11 attacks exposed first-responders and nearby residents to high levels of dust and gases, some of them potential carcinogens.

In a study published online on March 7 in Nature Medicine, Amit Verma, M.B.B.S., and colleagues reported results from analyzing genes in blood samples from 481 WTC-exposed first responders and 255 non-WTC exposed firefighters; the researchers focused on 237 genes frequently mutated in leukemia and other blood malignancies. Ten percent (48/481) of the firefighters were found to have clonal hematopoiesis (CH), i.e., mutations in blood cells associated with smoking and exposure to gene-toxic stimuli)—a CH incidence more than two to three times greater than for non-WTC firefighters. CH is associated with higher risk for developing leukemia and other health problems including heart attacks, asthma, and diabetes.

Dr. Verma is director of the division of hemato-oncology at Montefiore and professor of medicine and of developmental and molecular biology at Einstein. These studies were done in collaboration with Rachel Zeig-Owens, Dr.P.H., M.P.H., research assistant professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein and an epidemiologist at Montefiore and FDNY; David Prezant, M.D., professor of medicine at Einstein, a clinical pulmonologist at Montefiore, and the Chief Medical Officer at the FDNY; Kith Pradhan, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology & population health at Einstein; Michael Savona, M.D., at Vanderbilt University; Advaitha Madireddy, Ph.D., at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Anna Nolan, M.D., at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.