Research Digest

Lab notes: Bhopal residents exposed to methyl isocyanate in 1984 continue to have DNA damage

Fresh tests on people who were exposed to the chemical showed that the frequency of genetic aberrations has increased with time.

Victims of Bhopal gas tragedy continue to suffer damage in their DNA, a new study has revealed.

Methyl isocyanate, which released from the Union Carbide plant in December 1984, is known to damage human DNA by interacting with proteins. Such damage was recorded in studies done by the Indian Council of Medical Research in years following the gas leak.

Now a team of scientists from MGM New Bombay Hospital has performed fresh tests on people who were exposed to MIC and found that the damage continues. Researchers used the same categorization that was used by Indian Council of Medical Research – people were grouped as severely exposed, moderately exposed or unexposed. Blood samples of 156 persons were collected for this study. Of this, 130 samples gave readable data and anomalies detected were classified, and results compared with Indian Council of Medical Research screening performed between 1985-1988.

The study has shown two trends. Even though people who were severely exposed to the gas now possess fewer abnormal cells, the frequency of aberrations within such cells has increased with time. Another finding was increase in chromosomal aberrations even in people who were not exposed or moderately exposed to the gas.

The researchers explain it could be due to several reasons. “A number of confounders, including lifestyle, environment, nutritional factors, drinking water, occupational exposures, and inherent genetic conditions interact. Additionally, continuous soil contamination by chemical wastes dumped in the Union Carbide India limited site might have augmented the genetic changes through interaction with other biologic and abiologic factors,” the study says.

Dr Hit Kishore Goswami, former founder chairman of Department of Genetics at Bhopal University (now Barkatullah University) who was involved in Bhopal studies, commented that “many follow up studies have been performed by individual groups, each differing slightly in their approach. This study also does the same. It manages to expose the complications of chemical contact with better techniques”.

However, Dr V Ramana Dhara, adjunct clinical professor at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory, commented that “given problems with the study design and a lack of clear exposure-response, it does little to advance the knowledge of methyl isocyanate toxicity.”

The study was conducted by Bani B Ganguly and Shaouvik Mandal from the MGM Centre for Genetic Research and Diagnosis, MGM New Bombay Hospital. It has been published recently in journal Mutation Research-Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis.

This article was first published by India Science Wire.

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