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New ABOR Regents' Research Grant seeks to reduce cancer risk in Arizona's firefighters

PHOENIX, Nov. 28, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Thanks to a $4 million grant from the Arizona Board of Regents, the statewide firefighting community will have new hope in the battle against occupational-related cancer, a leading cause of death among firefighters.

Arizona's firefighting community will have new hope in the battle against cancer thanks to a Regents' Research Grant.

Through a new Regents' Research Grant, the University of Arizona will lead a study, in partnership with the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association and Arizona State University, to target enrolling 1,500 Arizona firefighters to test the effectiveness of whether blood/plasma donations lower cancer-causing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS levels. Firefighters come in contact with PFAS in many ways, including burning items and firefighter foam.

Earlier this year, occupational exposure as a firefighter was classified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

"Firefighters face unimaginable risks to save our loved ones, our homes and our communities and cancer is unfortunately one of those risks," said ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson. "This study will help us figure out if there are ways to reduce that risk. The board is tremendously grateful for the partnership and research between the universities and firefighters to find possible solutions."

The cancer risk is one Goodyear Fire Department Firefighter Gilbert Aguirre knows well. When he was 35, Aguirre was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia ? news that felt like a punch in the face to this former boxer.

"The hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life after receiving that diagnosis ... was my wife and I sitting down and talking to my three boys and telling them I had cancer," said Aguirre. "It's an occupational cancer. All of the exposures that we encounter in our career are the cause of my cancer."

Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population. "This grant and the research it will fund are beacons of hope for our firefighters," said Tom Shannon, Arizona Fire Chiefs Association President and Scottsdale Fire Department Chief. "Our great hope is that it will improve life outcomes for our firefighters." (Watch video.)

The fire chiefs' association will partner with the Professional Firefighters of Arizona to include firefighters from throughout Arizona in this research.

"One of this study's goals is to decrease PFAS levels in firefighters ? which we have found to be higher than in the general population. Results from a previous study in Australia are encouraging as PFAS levels decreased through blood and plasma donations. We're expecting similar results here and we will also be studying whether the reduced levels can also decrease disease risks associated with PFAS ? research which has not been done before and which we hope will ultimately save more lives among our fire first responders," said Dr. Jeff Burgess, principal investigator and University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health professor. Collaborators on the study are Dr. Melissa Furlong, UArizona, and Dr. Floris Wardenaar, ASU.

Regents' Research Grants address critical Arizona issues. The grants are funded by Technology and Research Initiative Funds, established through Prop. 301.

"These grants are designed to accomplish research to benefit the people of Arizona, to give them a return on investment from their hard-earned tax dollars. This round of grants addresses critical issues that are affecting Arizonans today from preserving our state's forests to cooling desert cities in an era of rising temperatures. I appreciate the strong collaboration between our state agencies and fire partners and look forward to research results that improve quality of life for Arizonans," said Regent Fred DuVal. 

Julie Newberg

SOURCE Arizona Board of Regents

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