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New Study Seeks Vietnam-Era Vets Exposed to Agent Orange

Original Publication Date: 
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Article Source: 


Nov. 8, 2016            Contact:  Barbara Holzer, 301-279-7202,

Vietnam-Era Vets Sought for Study to Determine Links Between Agent Orange and Rare Bone Marrow Cancer

BETHESDA, MD – The Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation (AAMDSIF) is proud to support a unique study by Dr. David Steensma, MD, on Agent Orange exposure and its potential link to myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) in Vietnam-era veterans. MDS is a rare bone marrow failure disease that severely impacts the body’s ability to produce blood. The study is being conducted at the Dana-Faber/Harvard Cancer Center, but qualified veterans anywhere in the U.S. can participate in this program.

“Tens of thousands of veterans who served in the Vietnam conflict were exposed to a toxic mix of chemicals, including dioxin in Agent Orange, jet fuel and other substances. These substances include known carcinogens that can injure bone marrow cells or cause DNA mutations,” said Steensma. “We have recently learned that to develop MDS, it takes multiple DNA mutations acquired over time, and so remote exposures may contribute to specific mutations in MDS in this patient population.”

Steensma is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; an Attending Physician of Hematologic Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Attending Physician of Medicine at Brigham And Women's Hospital. He’s also a member of the MDS Clinical Research Consortium, a collaboration among the nation’s six leading academic medical institutions studying MDS and treating MDS patients.

Steensma seeks to recruit approximately 50 MDS patients with an Agent Orange exposure and another 50 age-matched patients who did not serve in Southeast Asia and did not have Agent Orange exposure to function as the control group. Blood samples will be collected from both sets of participants with the purpose of performing DNA sequencing to discover any relationship between damage to DNA and exposure to Agent Orange. All interested parties need to do is register online to receive a kit by mail which they can bring to their local doctor’s office. The doctor will collect a tube of their blood and a vial of saliva and then ship it back to Dana Farber for analysis.

Currently, the Veterans Administration (VA) does not recognize a service connection with MDS, but this has always seemed “strange” to MDS-expert Steensma because of the biological nature of MDS compared to the diseases the VA does recognize. “It seems much more likely that MDS is connected to service exposure than some of the diseases the VA does recognize – like cardiac disease or diabetes, which are largely related to lifestyle or inherited predispositions,” he said.

“The Foundation has long recognized the special concerns of veterans who develop MDS,” said CEO Kathleen Weis. “We’ve been hearing those concerns voiced for years at our patient and family conferences. By providing funds for Dr. Steensma’s study of MDS molecular patterns, we hope to clarify how these vets contracted this life-threatening disease and resolve the issue for them, as well as for the VA.”

To read more about the study, visit If you are a Vietnam veteran or are interested in participating in the control group that will be matched by age, please contact the Study Coordinator.

The Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation (AAMDSIF) has been arming patients and families with the information they need to fight bone marrow failure disease since 1983. The organization sponsors innovative and collaborative research through the MDS Clinical Research Consortium and with its own research grant program. Based in Bethesda, MD, the Foundation has received Charity Navigator’s coveted 4-star rating for 11 consecutive years.

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