Thursday, May 12, 2016

Nevada Amphibole Asbestos: My Research

So this article is a little bit different.  This isn't a news story or a published article as of now.  It's still in development and the research is still ongoing.  Mainly, this research has to deal with natural asbestos that was found in Libby, Montana and Nevada.  The cool thing about this research is that it's all brand new information regarding autoimmune diseases and asbestos.

The super cool thing is that it is a project that I am working on.

Yep, you read that right.  I am actually participating in a big research project studying asbestos.  More specifically, I am looking at asbestos from Libby, Montana and Nevada and observing the correlations between autoimmune diseases and asbestos.  Like I said before, this research is still ongoing.  But I would love to share what information I have on the topic so far.

To begin with, this is the abstract that we submitted to the Montana State University Undergraduate Research Celebration during the month of April:

"Asbestos is a known carcinogen and also induces fibrosis of the lung. In addition, amphibole asbestos in particular has been shown to induce autoimmune responses. Despite these different outcomes, early stages are characterized by an immune/inflammatory reaction in the lungs, which can be used as a measure of the immunotoxicity of the fibers. Libby Amphibole (LA) asbestos was a contaminant of vermiculite mined near Libby MT for decades, leading to asbestos diseases not only to workers at the mine, but in the entire community. Recently, amphibole asbestos fibers similar in composition to LA were discovered just east of Boulder City, NV. It is very important to determine the relative toxicity of these fibers to establish the risk of disturbing this material. Our objective was to determine whether the Nevada Amphibole (NA) has similar biological effects as LA in a culture of mixed splenocytes. Fibers were collected and characterized by geologists at UNLV. Mixed splenocytes were challenged in vitro with five treatment groups: No Treatment, or 2 doses of each amphibole, 35 µg/cm 2 or 70 µg/cm 2 . Culture media was collected after 24 hr of treatment, and tested for Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFα) using a sandwich ELISA, as an early indicator of inflammation. The results showed that there is a statistical difference when comparing the asbestos treatments and no treatment, as well as differences between LA and NA. The results of the experiment showed that both amphiboles elicited a high amount of TNFα within the samples tested. This indicates that NA can cause as much risk as LA and that NA should raise as much concern if not more concern than the Libby Amphibole. Further studies in our laboratory will measure other cytokines in this comparison

To begin with, we looked at TNFα.  Essentially, this is a cytokine (chemical) produced by our cells when our body is trying to fight an autoimmune infection or cancer.  In my area, we focused on the splenocytes from mice spleen models while another group focused on macrophages in the lungs.  Now to explain the premise of this research.

So naturally occurring asbestos has recently been observed in Nevada, specifically around Boulder City and Las Vegas.  Through previous studies (the Libby Montana study) asbestos has been determined to cause some serious problems regarding mesothelioma and autoimmune diseases.  Our objective was to determine if the Nevada samples elicited the same reaction within mice models.  As the abstract says above, the same reactions in the splenocytes (and the macrophages) occurred in the mice models.  In addition, even higher levels of TNFα were produced in these samples than the Libby samples.  Granted, this is perliminary research, but the results suggest a serious problem.

Asbestos can take many years to manifest into a disease.  If people were exposed to this in Nevada, there could be a huge clean up problem.  How many people are exposed to this on a regular basis?  Thousands?  Millions?  With the amount of tourists that travel through this area, the problem could be catastrophic.  Therefore, it is crucial to fully determine what this naturally occurring asbestos sample can do to us.

As stated before, the research for this is ongoing!  I am working on this project for the next couple of months, maybe even the next year.  It is exciting to see where this research is heading!  Thanks for reading! 

If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to send me an email at:

Here is the funding that we receive for this project:

Emerging Exposures to Natural Occurring Asbestos in Western States: Fiber Specific Pulmonary and Autoimmune Health Effects in a Mouse ModelPIs: Deborah E. Keil and Jean C. Pfau. MAES, College of Agriculture, Montana State University.
Here are some research papers that could shed some light on this topic: