In this section learn how Aflatoxin a contaminating byproduct of mold caused liver cancer in animals and solicited strict guidelines to regulate the levels of Aflatoxin in the U.S. food supply today.
In 1960, mold-contaminated peanut meal was shipped from Brazil to England and fed to millions of turkeys, which in turn died of liver toxicity. Aflatoxin – a byproduct of the contaminating molds – was isolated and identified as the cause of the turkey deaths, and has been shown to cause liver cancer in other animals. Today, strict guidelines are in place to regulate the levels of aflatoxin in the U.S. food supply.
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John Groopman, Ph.D. is the Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research focuses on the molecular causes and effects of environmental factors that may lead to the development of cancers. This research has led to the development of biomarkers used in studies of high-risk aflatoxin-hepatitis B populations specifically in China.
“Aflatoxin is produced by a variety of molds and these molds contaminate the grains either outside or they can actually penetrate inside the grains. And then aflatoxin itself is a metabolite, it's actually a product that the mold produces that is then excreted out and contaminates the grain. The toxicity of aflatoxin and its potency as a carcinogen was recognized very early in the 1960s and as a consequence the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture put in place regulations very early on in the studies of this compound to regulate the levels of aflatoxin that would be permitted in the food supply. It was further recognized that just the physical examination of a corn grain product, or peanut butter, or peanut product was inadequate to determine whether aflatoxin was present. And only a specific chemical analysis of the grain or grain product could be performed in order to determine if aflatoxin was really there.”
Thomas Kensler, Ph.D. is a professor at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His research focuses on the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of cancers linked to exposure to environmental carcinogens. This research has led to potential chemopreventative strategies for liver cancer in populations at high risk for aflatoxin exposure.
“Aflatoxin is a very lipid soluble molecule so that when we ingest it, it's rapidly absorbed. And it goes first to the liver where there are enzymes that will chemically biotransform it into a very reactive chemical, which attacks with very high preference, our DNA, causing damage to that DNA, mutations, perhaps in genes that enhance our susceptibility to cancer production. Aflatoxin is also a very cytotoxic molecule so it will directly kill some of our liver cells creating a void, if you will, that causes the remaining liver cells to replicate and perhaps grow at a faster rate than we would like. The combination of DNA damage and cell proliferation triggers the liver cancer process.”
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Professor Groopman explains that we have an effective vaccine against the hepatitis B virus, but because the transmission of this virus occurs very early in life, we need to have the resources and the ability to vaccinate the world for the rest of the 21s
Professor Kensler explains that Aflatoxin is a lipid soluble molecule that is rapidly absorbed and it goes first to the liver where there are enzymes that will chemically biotransform it into a very reactive chemical.