School of Public Health researchers part of UMN team that receives $12M to continue studying cancer risk from environmental exposures to radon, PFAS

Virgil McDill | October 25, 2023

A University of Minnesota-based team leading the 10,000 Families Study has received a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that funds continued investigation of environmental exposures and cancer risk in Minnesota.

Heather Nelson

The study is focused on chemicals that residents of Minnesota are commonly exposed to, including radon, glyphosate, and PFAS. These chemicals can be found in many different places across Minnesota, impacting both rural and urban areas and racial or ethnic groups that are currently underrepresented in cancer research. The 10,000 Families Study uses data and samples collected from study participants throughout the state to determine if these chemicals of concern are associated with an increased prevalence of something called CHIP, a powerful and innovative biomarker—or indication in the body—of blood cancer risk.

The study is led by Heather Nelson, co-leader of the Masonic Cancer Center’s Screening, Prevention, Etiology, and Cancer Survivorship (SPECS) program and p​rofessor with the U of M School of Public Health (SPH); Lisa Peterson, co-leader of the Masonic Cancer Center’s Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention program and SPH professor; and Jen Poynter, co-associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement with the Masonic Cancer Center and professor with the U of M Medical School.

The 10,000 Families Study began in 2017 to address the unique health needs of Minnesota communities. The study gathers information to develop better advice on how to live a healthy life and to guide policies to promote health and reduce illness for all Minnesotans. In 2021, the study received $2.1 million in funding from the NCI for an initial study period of two years. With this 2023 grant renewal, the study has earned an additional four years of funding totaling nearly $12 million.

Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson

“Since we received the first installment of this grant two years ago, we’ve enrolled over 2,000 Minnesotans from 722 families participating in the 10,000 Families Study, including Minnesotans from both rural and urban areas and those who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of Minnesota,” said Poynter. “This grant renewal is a great opportunity to continue focusing on families across our state and determining how these exposures impact them now and for generations to come.”

“The first two years of the study has allowed us to build partnerships with community organizations aswell as the Minnesota Department of Health,” said Nelson. “We’re excited to continue the study and work collaboratively with Minnesotans to understand how exposures today might cause cancer in the future.”

“This funding provides us with a unique opportunity to explore the role of environmental exposures in the risk of blood cancer in Minnesota. I hope that everyone will consider enrolling in our study,” said Peterson.

The 10,000 Families Study invites families to participate over time with the purpose of understanding the influences of genetics, lifestyle, and environment on health and illness. Participation in the study includes completing a brief eligibility survey, inviting family members, completing a health questionnaire, and attending a brief study health visit. Individuals and families interested in participating in the study can find more information and sign up to participate at

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