Is acrylamide carcinogenic?

This research will look at markers of dietary acrylamide in renal cancer (MODARC)

  • Topic: Kidney cancer
  • Institution: Maastricht University
  • Country: Netherlands
  • Status: Ongoing
Researcher: Kim Smits
  • Grant awarded: November 2020

A multi-disciplinary effort identifying the mutagenic effects of acrylamide in human kidney tissue could considerably advance our understanding of the role of dietary acrylamide in human cancer development.”

– Kim Smits


People are widely exposed to acrylamide when eating carbohydrate-containing foods heated to high temperatures, such as chips or coffee, but also through cigarettes. In the body, acrylamide is turned into reactive glycidamide, known to cause cancer in rodents.

Epidemiological research into acrylamide and cancer in humans has so far provided inconsistent results. Nevertheless, the European Food Safety Authority noted that increased cancer risks could be present at current dietary acrylamide intakes. Recently, experiments in cells and mice revealed a specific mutation in DNA attributed to glycidamide effects.

In addition, glycidamide binds to DNA to form lesions that can induce mutations and thus contribute to cancer development. The glycidamide mutations were also found in human cancer genetic data but has not yet been experimentally confirmed in humans who are known to eat acrylamide. Given the widespread acrylamide exposure and uncertainty about the consequences of this exposure, it is imperative to further study DNA mutations and damage caused by acrylamide in human tissues.

Aims and objectives

This small preliminary study will evaluate the feasibility to identify the specific DNA mutations caused by glycidamide in renal cell carcinomas and the DNA damage in kidney tissues of healthy people. In addition, it will also address whether the amount of mutations is higher in patients who eat a lot of acrylamide in their diet compared to those with a low intake.

How it will be done

To test whether DNA mutations caused by acrylamide or glycidamide can be measured in human kidney tissue, 30 tissue samples from patients with renal cell carcinoma (15 with high and 15 with low acrylamide intake) will be selected. These samples will be examined for the presence of DNA mutations, and the proportion of mutations attributed to acrylamide or glycidamide will be compared in the high and low intake groups.

In addition, 30 healthy kidney tissue samples taken after autopsy will be retrieved from the Pathology archives of Maastricht University Medical Center. These samples will be used to test whether DNA damage can be successfully measured in human kidney tissues.

Potential impact

Despite several large studies, the debate on the possible carcinogenic effects of dietary acrylamide has not been resolved. However, the known carcinogenic effects in rodents, as well as the current viewpoint of the European Food Safety Authority and our recent experimental results, emphasise the importance of further studies on this topic.

Our study, for the first time, will evaluate the feasibility of measuring DNA mutations and damage associated with glycidamide in patients who are known to eat acrylamide in their diet. This will lead to new insights into the role of acrylamide as a human carcinogen, and it will also open up the possibility of integrating experimental analyses into current population studies on acrylamide.

Critical information will be generated allowing for a conclusion on the role of acrylamide in human carcinogenesis, helping to formulate recommendations to the food industry to decrease the acrylamide in food, and strengthening cancer prevention measures concerning dietary acrylamide intake.