New cancer cases could assist University research

U researchers established a pool of miners, which has been used to find cases of mesothelioma since the 1990s.

by Danielle Korby

Twenty-one cases of mesothelioma that state health officials found last month in northeastern Minnesota miners could help inform the work of some University of Minnesota researchers.

School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan said the new cases emphasize the importance of continuing research on mesothelioma in taconite miners.

“Mining processing is a risky business, and we think for the health of miners and the health of the state’s economy that this is something we should continue to keep an eye on.”

Finnegan said he thinks the number of cases will diminish as dust regulation and protective equipment for workers improve.

The researchers are studying the quality and amount of dust in northern Minnesota taconite mines to help explain possible causes of the rare form of cancer. The new cases give researchers a larger sample pool for their work than they originally had, said Jeffrey Mandel, an associate professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences.

Mandel said the University could also partner with the department to study dust exposure in the mines where the 21 workers labored. Where all of the miners worked hasn’t been confirmed yet, Mandel said.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said that of the 21 miners who were diagnosed with mesothelioma, two are alive and the others have died within the past 10 years.

University researchers established a pool of about 70,000 miners, which has been used to find cases of mesothelioma  since the 1990s.

Researchers from the school started a new study in the fall that uses a high-powered microscope to study dust in taconite mines, Mandel said.

The 21 cases were the first found by the department since the University began its studies in 2008.

University researchers will decide whether to use the 21 cases in their research based on the funding they receive and what they can learn about the cases, Mandel said.