Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Tracking a Silent Killer in Rural Bangladesh

Published: Monday, January 06, 2014
Last Updated: Monday, January 06, 2014
Bookmark and Share
An interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers seek to understand why lead contamination persists in one of the poorest corners of the world, and how to stop its spread.

It's been decades since the U.S. phased out the use of lead in gasoline, paint, pipes and other products because of the metal's insidious health effects. Although lead from previous years' exhaust still persists in soil and dust, Americans have largely rid themselves of the toxin, linked to symptoms ranging from anemia and hearing loss to heart disease and mental retardation. In other parts of the world, however, the specter of lead poisoning still hovers.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers supported by the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment's Environmental Venture Projects (EVP) seed-grant program is challenging conventional wisdom about why lead contamination lingers in one of the poorest corners of the world. Their work could lead to more rapid testing for contamination, greater public awareness and decisive regulatory action.

In some areas of Bangladesh, as many as half of the residents have high levels of lead in their blood. "If you had children or pregnant women in the U.S. with these levels, there would be an uproar," said Stephen Luby, a Stanford professor of medicine and senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

With his fellow project investigators, Luby is searching for the dangerous metal's pathways to people and ways to disrupt the status quo.

Decades of research
Luby first started thinking about lead in the developing world when he conducted a study in Pakistan during the early 1990s. The results showed high levels of lead in children's blood, likely a result of the country's continued use of leaded fuel.

After Pakistan banned leaded gas, due in part to the study's influence, Luby shifted his focus to nearby Bangladesh. He came across studies showing lead contamination in the land of two rural areas. "That struck me as odd," Luby recalls. There were few roads and almost no vehicles spewing leaded gas exhaust in the areas. Based on the evidence of higher lead levels in farm land compared with levels in nearby homes, Luby speculated that the contamination was coming from an agricultural product, possibly pesticide, and being absorbed by plants.

A similar story played out in the U.S. apple industry during the late 19th century and early 20th century when the use of lead arsenate pesticides contributed to the contamination of thousands of acres and sickened many field workers.

When he floated his hypothesis to other experts in the field, Luby was met with skepticism. Responding to an email from Luby, one wrote that he was "perplexed" by the idea, while another scientist wrote he "would be very surprised" if Luby's theory proved correct. "They thought I was crazy," Luby said. "It was pretty direct and troubling because it came from people who have been in Bangladesh a long time."

Despite the doubts, Luby pushed on. With colleagues, he collected hundreds of blood samples from residents of agricultural areas. Luby didn't have the funding, however, to test the samples for lead, carry out surveys and do other related work. "Then EVP came along," Luby said. With the program's support, Luby and his fellow project investigators, Assistant Professor of Economics Pascaline Dupas and Woods senior fellows Scott Fendorf (Earth sciences) and Roz Naylor (Earth sciences, FSI), plan to look for lead in blood and soil samples, examine evidence of past contamination and develop ways to test pesticides for the dangerous metal.

Interdisciplinary team of researchers
Naylor's interest in the project was driven by a desire to learn more about Bangladesh's agriculture sector, and how the use of lead-based pesticides potentially acts as a barrier to escaping poverty. "How can a country hope to alleviate rural poverty if people in those areas are cognitively impaired (from lead poisoning)?" Naylor said.

Fendorf, a soil scientist, will focus on how to find lead in soils and how to analyze it. Naylor, an agricultural economist and director of the Center for Food Security and the Environment, will examine market mechanisms for use and overuse of pesticides, among other analyses. Dupas, a developmental economist and center fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy

 Research, will explore behaviors around pesticide use and how to change them. "They will frame issues and ask questions in ways that I wouldn't know to do," Luby said of his colleagues on the project.

Initial testing of samples has confirmed high levels of lead among residents of rural Bangladesh who have very little access to motor vehicles.

Luby hopes that once the pathway of lead contamination is confirmed, future lead identification data in Bangladesh will be published by watchdog groups and garner widespread attention. "We are set up to be able to demonstrate how these rural residents become exposed to such high levels of lead," Luby said. He acknowledges, however, that it may require more to get the attention of powerful decision makers. "If rice for city people is also contaminated, we will have the attention of the political class."


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,900+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Flexible Gene Expression May Regulate Social Status
Scientists show how the selective expression of genes through epigenetics can regulate the social status of African cichlid fish.
Monday, January 11, 2016
World Forest Carbon Stocks Overestimated
Researchers with The Natural Capital Project show how fragmentation harms forests' ability to store carbon; more restoration is needed to reconnect forest patches.
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
U.S. Needs a New Approach for Governance of Risky Research
The United States needs better oversight of risky biological research to reduce the likelihood of a bioengineered super virus escaping from the lab or being deliberately unleashed, according three Stanford scholars.
Monday, January 04, 2016
Mapping the Mechanical Properties of Living Cells
Researchers have developed a new way to use atomic force microscopy to rapidly measure the mechanical properties of cells at the nanometer scale, an advance that could pave the way for better understanding immune disorders and cancer.
Monday, December 21, 2015
Viral Infections Leave a Signature on the Immune System
A test that queries the body’s own cells can distinguish a viral infection from a bacterial infection and could help doctors know when to use antibiotics.
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Novel Approach to Understanding Brain Function
Russell Poldrack scanned his brain to create the most detailed map of brain connectivity ever.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Accelerating Protein Evolution
A new tool enables researchers to test millions of mutated proteins in a matter of hours or days, speeding the search for new medicines, industrial enzymes and biosensors.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Blocking Dengue Fever Virus
By targeting fundamental cellular machinery, the antiviral approach developed in Judith Frydman's lab at Stanford could provide a roadmap to preventing infections that affect hundreds of millions of people every year.
Thursday, December 03, 2015
Gene Linked to Heart Failure
Researchers have identified a previously unknown association between heart function and the narcolepsy-linked orexin receptor pathway, a finding that could provide a promising direction for treatment research.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
New Class of RNA Tumor Suppressors Identified
Two short, “housekeeping” RNA molecules block cancer growth by binding to an important cancer-associated protein called KRAS. More than a quarter of all human cancers are missing these RNAs.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Ancient Viral Molecules Essential for Human Development
Genetic material from ancient viral infections is critical to human development, according to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Sleep Deprivation Affects Stem Cells, Reducing Transplant Efficiency
Although the research was done in mice, the findings have possible implications for bone marrow transplants, more properly called hematopoietic stem cell transplants, in humans.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Enzyme Malfunction May be Why Binge Drinking Can Lead to Alcoholism
A new study in mice shows that restoring the synthesis of a key brain chemical tied to inhibiting addictive behavior may help prevent alcohol cravings following binge drinking.
Friday, October 09, 2015
How Cell Growth Triggers Cell Division
Researchers in Jan Skotheim's lab have discovered a previously unknown mechanism that controls how large cells grow, an insight that could one day provide insight into attacking diseases such as cancer.
Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Tension Helps Heart Cells Develop Normally in the Lab
Stanford engineers have uncovered the important role tension plays in growing heart cells out of the body.
Monday, October 05, 2015
Scientific News
Breaking Cell Barriers with Retractable Protein Nanoneedles
Adapting a bacterial structure, institute researchers have developed protein actuators that can mechanically puncture cells.
Gene Signature could Lead to a New Way of Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Lyme disease patients had distinctive gene signatures that persisted for at least three weeks, even after they had taken the antibiotics.
Retractable Protein Nanoneedles
The ability to control the transfer of molecules through cellular membranes is an important function in synthetic biology; a new study from researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School (HMS) introduces a novel mechanical method for controlling release of molecules inside cells.
Leukemia’s Surroundings Key to its Growth
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a type of cancer found primarily in children can grow only when signaled to do so by other nearby cells that are noncancerous.
Common Cell Transformed into Master Heart Cell
By genetically reprogramming the most common type of cell in mammalian connective tissue, researchers at the University of Wisconsin—Madison have generated master heart cells — primitive progenitors that form the developing heart.
‘Smelling’ Prostate Cancer
A research team from the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has reached an important milestone towards creating a urine diagnostic test for prostate cancer that could mean that invasive diagnostic procedures that men currently undergo eventually become a thing of the past.
Genetic Mutation that Prevents Diabetes Complications
The most significant complications of diabetes include diabetic retinal disease, or retinopathy, and diabetic kidney disease, or nephropathy. Both involve damaged capillaries.
A Crystal Clear View of Biomolecules
Fundamental discovery triggers paradigm shift in crystallography.
Could the Food we Eat Affect Our Genes?
Almost all of our genes may be influenced by the food we eat, according to new research.
NIH Seeks Research Applications to Study Zika in Pregnancy, Developing Fetus
Institute has announced that the new effort seeks to understand virus effect on reproduction and child development.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,900+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,200+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!