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Your Environment. Your Health.

U.S. and Chinese Researchers Reduce Aflatoxin

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Thursday, March 25, 1999, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Tom Hawkins, NIEHS
(919) 541-1402

A team of scientists from the U.S. and the People's Republic of China have used the drug Oltipraz to help detoxify one of nature's deadliest toxins, aflatoxin, in the bodies of people exposed through their food.

The treatment, reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute ( (Vol. 91, No. 4) ( appears to have enhanced peoples's ability to detoxify the natural agent and to have greatly reduced the amount of aflatoxin circulating in the bodies of exposed people.

Aflatoxin occurs on moldy grains, corn, peanuts and other crops. Exposure to aflatoxin can cause liver cancer. In many countries around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, large numbers of people regularly consume foods heavily contaminated with aflatoxin.

In the U.S., federal and state inspections as well as proper storage and transport reduce the level of aflatoxin in the human food supply and largely divert contaminated foodstuffs to uses other than human consumption. However, a drug like Oltipraz could be useful in reducing people's exposures in developing countries where aflatoxin contaminates the food supply.

This work is being supported by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences ( and the National Cancer Institute ( , both parts of the National Institutes of Health ( .

In the U.S., the research is centered at Johns Hopkins University ( in Baltimore, Maryland, where John D. Groopman, Ph.D., one of the senior authors, directs the NIEHS-supported Environmental Health Sciences Center. Dr. Groopman said, "Our study showed that oltipraz activates one of the body's defenses against toxic chemicals, the P450 system, enabling the body to expel aflatoxins that would otherwise give rise to disease. We call this a chemopreventive approach."

He said colleagues at Qidong Liver Cancer Institute and the Shanghai Cancer Institute located and worked with a group of 240 volunteers who received one of three treatments -- a placebo, a 125 mg dose daily, or a 500 mg dose weekly.

The drug Oltipraz, manufactured by Rhone-Poulenc, Paris, has been used previously to treat a parasitic disease, schistosomiasis, caused by blood flukes that occur in some contaminated water and penetrate the skin of bathers.

Note: John Groopman, Johns Hopkins University ( , is available at (410) 955-3720.

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