Some workers are occupationally exposed to diesel exhaust, in particular those who work indoors where diesel driven machinery is used. Exposure to diesel exhaust is associated with increased risk of asthma, COPD and lung cancer, in addition to cardiovascular diseases. Tunnel finishing workers are fitters performing work related to electrical installation, rock support, and water and frost protection in road and railway tunnels, and represents an occupational group that are highly exposed to diesel exhaust.

The goal of this project is to establish new, sensitive molecular/epigenetic biomarkers for occupational exposure to diesel exhaust, and to increase the knowledge of toxic mechanisms. Such biomarkers will improve assessment of exposure and effective biological dose. Thus, they may aid in predicting the risk of adverse health effects. The design comprises a study of tunnel finishing workers and a similar reference group from the same industry. The primary focus is aimed at biomarkers related to lung cancer, but many of these will also be relevant for other chronical lung diseases, as well as cardiovascular disease.

Epigenetics is a promising research field within occupational exposure and health. Epigenetic changes, which are important in regulation of gene activity, are strongly associated with environmental exposures. We will study if epigenetic changes in the blood of diesel exposed workers can represent biomarkers of exposure and adverse health effects. We will also study if plasma protein profiles can be useful biomarkers. Telomeres are structures at the chromosomes ends that ensure correct replication of DNA during cell division, and environmental exposures can lead to changes in the length of telomeres. We will study whether occupational exposure to diesel exhaust is associated when such telomere length changes.

Project leader: Steen Mollerup.