San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation Collaboration

Flame retardants are a diverse group of chemicals that have been used extensively in clothing, insulation, plastics, and a host of other manufactured materials to inhibit combustion or spreading of the fire. The ubiquitous use of these chemicals has resulted in widespread exposure within most developed countries. In fact, nearly all Americans tested have measurable levels of flame retardants in blood or urine. Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, abnormal fetal development, altered thyroid function, neurodegeneration, and even certain cancers.

Due to occupational hazards, firefighters have high rates of exposure to these types of chemicals, often with little foreknowledge of the type and level of flame retardants at the scene. Yet relatively few studies been commissioned to evaluate the health effects of exposures to flame retardant chemicals, and most of these are limited to retrospective work or mortality data from government databases. More basic research is needed that can clearly define the chemical effects, which can then be used to determine causality between flame retardant exposures and specific illnesses. Our research goal is to evaluate key flame retardant compounds effects in human cells models of cancer. This initial proposal will focus on testing known flame retardants compounds for chemical toxicity in established cell models within our lab. Once this data is obtained, more targeted studies can be developed to implement in the field.

As part of this research project, Dr. David Killilea has been mentoring a student very interested in defining the chemical effects of flame retardants in classic human cell culture models.  Charles Li has recently been awarded the University of California, Berkeley Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship for further study.  Read more about this project here.....