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Columbia University

Superfund Research Program

Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study (HEALS)

Project Leader: Habibul Ahsan (University of Chicago)
Grant Number: P42ES010349
Funding Period: 2000-2021
View this project in the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT)

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Project Summary (2012-2017)

Nearly 200 million people in the world, including ~57 million in Bangladesh and ~17 million in the United States (US), are chronically exposed to inorganic arsenic (As), a class I human carcinogen, and are at increased risk of mortality, cancers as well as cardiovascular, pulmonary and other non-malignant disorders. As part of the Columbia University SRP, Habibul Ahsan, M.D., established the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study (HEALS)—a large prospective cohort study based on individual-level data among a population exposed to a wide range of inorganic As from drinking water in Araihazar, Bangladesh. Over the past 12 years, using a population-based sampling frame, Dr. Ahsan and his team of researchers recruited >24,000 men and women (with >95% response rates) and collected detailed questionnaires, clinical data, and biospecimen samples at baseline recruitment as well as every two years subsequently. Approximately 80% of participants are exposed to water As at low-to moderate doses (0-150 pg/L) with nearly 75% exposed at <100 pg/L. Through a dedicated medical clinic established by Columbia University and The University of Chicago that exclusively serves the HEALS participants, the researchers have also developed an effective mechanism of following the cohort, especially for detecting incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.

In this study, the researchers are prospectively evaluating the effects of various measures of As exposure and methylation capacity on:

  1. all-cause, chronic-disease and cancer-related mortalities;
  2. incidence of total and subtypes of chronic non-malignant respiratory disease (CNRD) including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, restrictive lung disease, and pulmonary tuberculosis;
  3. incidence of total and subtypes of cardiovascular disease (CVD) including coronary heart disease and stroke and also CVD subclinical marker carotid artery intima-medial thickness; and, finally to identify
  4. modifiable host factors that influence these associations.

A combination of prospective study designs including cohort and efficient case-cohort studies are being employed to address these specific aims in the most efficient manner. In addition to investigating these novel research questions, as in the previous funding period, the HEALS cohort is continuing to support other biomedical research.


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