Sustainable Chemicals: Why Metabolomics Should be on Industry's Radar
12:27 PM MST | November 24, 2010 | By ALEX SCOTT
Metabolomics isn’t a field of science that many in the chemicals industry are familiar with, but it’s about to become a significant one for the sector. The metabolome is the alteration of gene function as a result of exposure to chemicals that would not otherwise be identified by genetic screening.
Hector Keun, Cefic’s recipient of the Annual Innovation Award one year ago, and a lecturer in biological chemistry at Imperial College, London, is a bright biochemist pursuing understanding in this field of science. He gave an update of his recent research on metabolomics at Cefic’s Annual Long-range Research Initiative (LRI) workshop in Brussels a few days ago.
According to Keun, metabolomics can be used in the murky world of biomonitoring to gain a clearer picture of how risk factors interact with genotypes to produce effects on human health.
Such biomarkers may not only be good for effectively predicting health endpoints – which would be good for risk assessment and hazard identification – but could also provide clues as to the mechanism of toxicity and cause of disease in human populations.
Metabolomics enables the identification of certain biomarkers and could be used to determine the impact of multiple chemical exposures at once. Part of the power of metabolomics is that a combination of biomolecules, which can be interpreted as a signature or profile, may be more sensitive and therefore easier to identify than certain biomarkers for one chemical alone. Added advantages of the approach are that many biomarkers are highly translational, and identification can be determined by non-invasive measurements in body fluids.
Keun’s recent studies include analysis of a population in an area of the U.K. exposed to heavy metals. Ongoing research by Keun includes a study to determine to what extent there is a link between exposure of certain chemicals to cancers in people. He is involved in a study in the Netherlands to determine the occupational exposure of a population to phenoxy herbicides. The study in the Netherlands should be completed in the next couple of years, Keun says.
As Keun said to me prior to presenting his latest research - already we have a world where we are moving toward personalised medicine - imagine a world where individuals can have a product checked to ensure that it is safe. Advances in metabolomics may facilitate this.
Interestingly, metabolomics also throws up some of the answers as to what can prevent disease in the face of exposure to certain chemicals. “Rather than focus on specific chemicals, metabolomics could be the route to mitigation to explain the role of diet in the risk of exposure,” Keun says.
This approach to testing is the holy grail for chemicals regulators. It could also be useful for chemical companies to identify which chemicals - or families of chemicals - are problematic, and which are worth investing in over the long term.
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