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Your Environment. Your Health.

Environmental Determinants of Autoimmunity

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

NIEHS Grant: R21ES017934

Community-Academic Partners
Medical University of South Carolina: Diane L. Kamen, M.D.  
Medical University of South Carolina Lupus Erythematosus Research Group:
Sea Island Families Project Citizen Advisory Committee

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Molecular model

The African American Gullah population of the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia is a unique community for defining environmental factors for autoimmune diseases. This population has a high prevalence of autoimmunity, particularly systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Additionally, locally caught seafood is a dietary staple for this population. High levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) have been found in local bottlenose dolphins and red drum, two wildlife species that serve as surrogates of human health effects. Research has established links between these compounds and immune system dysfunction and autoimmune disease. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina are collaborating with the Sea Island Families Project Advisory Committee to study the link between these persistent organic pollutants and autoimmunity.

The partners will:

  • Develop a questionnaire to assess the occupational and dietary burden of exposure to PBDEs and PFAAs among the Gullah community living in South Carolina.
  • Determine whether serum levels of PBDEs and PFAAs correlate with the presence of autoimmunity among first-degree relatives of patients.
  • Determine if levels of contaminants increase over time and whether the rate of autoimmune disease correlates with this increase.
  • Develop an algorithm to identify community members at high risk for PBDE and PFAA exposure.
  • Perform community outreach and education through a Steering Committee and public forums.

The partnership will communicate the findings to the community which will become the basis for developing sound environmental health action. An evaluation will determine whether this collaborative process reached the education and research objectives.

This partnership seeks to determine whether environmental exposures trigger autoimmunity and to develop strategies for exposure reduction and disease prevention.

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