Simone Neuß, doctoral student at the Institute of Human Genetics in Ulm, has been awarded the “Prize for Young Scientists 2010” from the Society of Environmental and Mutation Research. The 28-year-old biologist who works in the group of Günter Speit received the award along with 2,500 euros for her work on the genotoxic effects of formaldehyde.
For the last three years, Simone Neuß has been working on the question as to whether the inhalation of the potentially carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde can induce leukaemia, an issue that is subject to controversial debate all over the world. In order to exert a carcinogenic effect, the chemical needs to enter the bone marrow or damage haematopoietic stem cells in the nose that then subsequently migrate into the bone marrow.
Cell culture and animal experiments showed that formaldehyde only damages cells that come into direct contact with the chemical and that the chemical is not distributed throughout the entire body. It would therefore appear that even the inhalation of high concentrations of formaldehyde does not damage the human genetic information in the bone marrow.
In a second step, Simone Neuß examined volunteers who had inhaled differing concentrations of formaldehyde for potential DNA damage in the blood and in the nasal mucosa. Using molecular biology methods, Neuß investigated whether the activity of human genes changed upon formaldehyde inhalation. "Overall, my investigations show that there is no biologically plausible explanation for the development of leukaemia in people who have inhaled formaldehyde," summarised Neuß who presented her research results at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Environmental and Mutation Research in Potsdam.