9/11 Survivors May Be At Greater Risk of Developing Autoimmune Diseases

Jennifer Waddleton, 51, is suffering from an autoimmune disease after serving as a 9/11 first responder. Image courtesy of NBC news.

Jennifer Waddleton, 31, was working as a paramedic in emergency medical services when she was called to ground zero in New York City on September 11, 2001, after the devastating terrorist attacks on the twin towers. Waddleton is among an estimated 400,000 people who were exposed to toxic debris after the collapse of the towers.

At the time, Waddleton didn’t realize the impact that responding to the event had had on her physical and mental health. Now, however, things are different. She can barely stand for more than 30 minutes at a time or tolerate sunlight. She has brain lesions, her hair is falling out, and her teeth are deteriorating.

“My body is failing me at 51,” said Waddleton, who was diagnosed with cancer, chronic acid reflux, sinus issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But Waddleton began to experience other symptoms that couldn’t be explained by these diagnoses, including crippling fatigue, chronic migraines, and difficulty swallowing. She knew something wasn’t right.

“In the back of my head, I always knew,” she said. “But everyone was like: ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s all in your head. You need sleep, you work crazy hours. Stop complaining’.”

Despite dealing with medical gaslighting for years, Waddleton eventually had kidney failure, and doctors couldn’t deny her poor health any longer. She was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in 2012, 11 years after responding to 9/11. Lupus occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks and damages its organs and tissues.

Before being diagnosed, Waddleton was concerned that her troubling symptoms were somehow related to her experience as a 9/11 responder, and if there were others out there experiencing the same thing. According to several research studies, Waddleton’s concerns are valid; autoimmune diseases do appear to be on the rise among 9/11 victims and first responders alike.

Autoimmune diseases may have been triggered among 9/11 victims as a result of exposure to toxic dust at the scene. Crystalline silica, a construction mineral and major component of the debris, is a noted risk factor for autoimmune disorders. Other chemicals found on-site, like organic hydrocarbon solvents and asbestos, have also been associated with immune dysfunction. A 2015 study found that for every month a first responder worked on the World Trade Center site, the risk of developing an autoimmune disease rose by 13%. A 2019 study based on over 43,000 World Trade Center Health Registry participants found that first responders with intense exposure to the toxic dust were almost twice as likely to develop systemic autoimmune diseases. The most frequently diagnosed autoimmune conditions were rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, myositis, mixed connective tissue disease, and scleroderma.

The same 2019 study also purported that PTSD may also be responsible for triggering autoimmune disorders among 9/11 victims and first responders. This confirms other research on the connection between chronic stress, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and autoimmune disease.

Many victims of 9/11 can have their health insurance covered or receive a financial payout from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and the World Trade Center Health Program. However, autoimmune diseases are not acknowledged by the compensation fund nor the health program. This means that those who suffer from autoimmune diseases are ineligible for free health care, and cannot receive compensation for their suffering. Most of the covered conditions on the list include acute injuries, lung conditions, cancer, and mental health issues.

Multiple petitions among 9/11 victims have requested to have autoimmune diseases added to the list of covered conditions, to no avail; the federal government has cited lack of sufficient evidence proving the link between autoimmunity and exposures from 9/11. Another issue is that autoimmune diseases may have a genetic component, making it even more difficult to prove that the development of these conditions was caused by exposures during 9/11, and not the patients’ own genetic makeup.

So for now, first responders like Waddleton will have to wait until the research catches up. Waddleton manages a Facebook group for 9/11 emergency responders who have suffered from autoimmune diseases after the event, and has seen first-hand the effects that it’s had on these patients.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said. “They left everyone else hanging. This wasn’t supposed to be my life.”

To read more about this story, visit the NBC news website.

The Connection Between Blood Type and Autoimmune Disease

Image courtesy of Medical News Today.

Medical researchers have long asked the question: Is there a connection between one’s blood type and autoimmune disease?

Clinical studies have had varied results, mostly due to the small sample sizes of each study. Though this area needs more research, this blog post will cover some of the research that has been published so far.

Study: Rheumatic Diseases and ABO Blood Types

A 2017 study in Turkey sought to find a link between particular blood types and the incidence of rheumatic disease. Rheumatic disease includes over 200 conditions that cause pain in your joints, connective tissue, tendons, and cartilage; many of these conditions are autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and systemic lupus erythematosus.

The researchers assessed 823 patients, with the following distribution of blood types: 42.5% patients had type A blood, 33.2% had type O blood, 15.4% had type B, and 8.9% had type AB. Each patient in the study had at least one of the following nine rheumatic diseases:

  • Behçet’s disease
  • Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Spondyloarthropathy
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
  • Systemic sclerosis (SSc)
  • Sjogren’s syndrome (SjS)
  • Undifferentiated connective tissue disease
  • Vasculitis

Their study found that there was a significant difference in the distribution of blood types among those with rheumatic diseases. The most common autoimmune diseases among those with type A blood were: rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthropathy, vasculitis, Behçet’s disease, and undifferentiated connective tissue disease.

The most common autoimmune diseases among those with type O blood were: systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and Sjogren’s syndrome. The researchers also noted that SLE, SSc and SjS are the connective tissue disorders frequently observed with antinuclear antibodies (ANA). The rheumatic disease familial Mediterranean fever was also found to be most common in those with type O blood.

Those with blood type AB were observed to be the least likely to suffer from rheumatic disease. However, it should be noted that type AB blood is also the most rare blood type in general, and represented the smallest amount of patients studied.

In addition, it was found that there was a significant difference in the distribution of Rh factor in rheumatic diseases. Of those with rheumatic diseases, 92.2% patients were Rh positive and only 7.8% patients were Rh negative. However, it should once again be noted that a positive Rhesus Factor (Rh+) is also more common among the general population than a negative Rhesus Factor (Rh-).

Is there a link between autoimmune disease and blood type?

So, if you have blood types A or O, does this mean you are more likely to get an autoimmune disease? The researchers who conducted this study concluded: “…we believe that the higher incidence of different rheumatic diseases in different blood types is associated with different genetic predispositions.”

In other words, since blood type is inherited (i.e. genetic), the results of the study point to a likely connection between certain genes and the increased predisposition for developing an autoimmune or rheumatic disease.

Do you know your blood type?

I, for one, do not know my own blood type. This is somewhat ironic, since I’ve undergone many blood tests as part of my Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosis, as well as for monitoring my liver enzyme levels while taking certain medications to control my autoimmune symptoms.

I actually did ask my primary care doctor what my blood type was the last time he ordered a test, and he advised that finding out your blood type is not a common part of the blood testing routine, and thus, he didn’t know what mine was.

If you have an autoimmune disease (or multiple diseases), and you know your blood type, comment below and let us know, are your condition and blood type consistent with the results of this study?

3 BioTech Companies You Can Invest In to Fund Autoimmune Disease Research

At Autoimmune Warrior, we believe that scientific research and development holds the key to unlocking new, innovative treatments and ultimately, a cure for autoimmune disease. In today’s blog post, we’ll explore three different biotechnology companies that are pioneering research about autoimmune diseases.

Why should companies research autoimmune diseases?

According to the American Autoimmune Diseases & Related Disorders Association (AARDA), there are over 100 different types of autoimmune diseases affecting 50 million people in the US alone. This demonstrates that autoimmune diseases are one of the most prevalent conditions nationwide. Furthermore, the AARDA reports that autoimmunity is one of the top 10 leading causes for death among American women. These figures show the high impact that medical research could have on autoimmune patients.

There is, of course, a financial incentive for biotech companies as well. A Research & Markets report indicated that as of 2017, the global autoimmune disease therapeutics market was estimated to be worth over US$109 billion. This figure was projected to grow to US$153 billion by 2025. Part of this growth has been attributed to the rise in autoimmune diseases among the general population and specific groups; although it’s been argued that medical professionals are becoming more aware of autoimmune conditions, and therefore, are simply getting better at diagnosing patients.

How can I help fund research & development?

If you or someone you love suffers from an autoimmune condition, you’ll know how important it is to find effective treatment options. As a result, you may consider investing your hard-earned dollars in companies that are pioneering autoimmune disease research. Below are three companies that I have personally researched that are contributing to this cause.

1. Landos Biopharma

Landos Biopharma is a Virginia-based company started by former Virginia Tech inflammation & immunology professor Josep Bassaganya-Riera, PhD. Landos is considered to be clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of oral therapeutics for patients with autoimmune diseases. In particular, the company is developing therapeutics for those with autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, such as ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease.

Landos, which was founded in 2017, is a publicly-listed company on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the ticker symbol LABP. As of writing, the stock sits at just above US$12 per share.

2. UCB

UCB is a Brussels, Belgium-based multinational company, with a long history of research and development in the area of immunology. Some of the company’s autoimmune disease research areas include: rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and myasthenia gravis (MG). The company actively works with clinics worldwide to recruit for clinical studies with autoimmune patients; some of the studies they are actively recruiting for at the time of writing (June 2021) include patients with hidradenitis suppurativa, lupus, psoriasis and myasthenia gravis.

UCB is a 90-year-old company, and is publicly listed on the EBR stock exchange under the ticker symbol UCB. As of writing, the stock sits at just above 85 euros per share.

3. Abbvie

Abbvie is a Chicago-based multinational company that was spun off from Abbott Laboratories. Abbvie has been striving to advance the standard of care in rheumatology for more than 20 years. The company says that they are focused on developing therapeutics for patients with chronic diseases, which is said to account for 75 percent of all healthcare costs. Some of the company’s autoimmune research areas include: rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. The company has already developed a number of well-known anti-inflammatory treatments, including HUMIRA (adalimumab).

Abbvie was spun-off in 2013, and is a publicly-listed company on the NYSE under the ticker symbol ABBV. As of writing, the stock sits at just above US$114 per share.

Would you consider investing in these biotech companies? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide financial advice, but to raise awareness about companies conducting research & development towards advancing autoimmune disease therapeutics. Always consult with your physician before beginning a new treatment plan.