• Question: Which is the main goal of toxicology? What does it investigate?

    Asked by perealberch to Richard, Anais, katy, Lauren, Stuart on 11 Mar 2016. This question was also asked by DR EVIL SPECTACLES.
    • Photo: Richard Friend

      Richard Friend answered on 11 Mar 2016:

      Hi! Toxicology is basically the study of the negative effects of chemicals on living organisms. For me, this means looking into the negative side effects of medicine and making changes to make sure they are minimised as much as possible. That can mean taking a medicine gradually, so that the amount of the medicine in your system isn’t massive to begin with and then trickle as the body metabolises it, or looking into taking less harmful medicines.

    • Photo: Lauren Laing

      Lauren Laing answered on 14 Mar 2016:

      As Richard says, toxicology is basically the study of the effects of chemical substances. These chemicals might include pharmaceutical medicines, pesticides, industrial chemicals, oils and fuels or components of plastics. Chemicals may affect the environment, humans or animals. Usually, toxicologists focus on the negative effects that these chemicals may have, and try to come to conclusions which will help decision makers in parliament to decide if a chemical should be banned, better managed or even encouraged in use due to its safe properties.

      For me, toxicology means understanding how chemicals may be toxic to fish in the wild, including how these chemicals may affect the way genes are expressed and regulated. I enjoy working on fish because I think they are really important. They provide an important food source for millions of people, and are at significant risk from stress or toxicity caused by exposure to chemicals such as pesticides used in farming, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and plasticizers. These chemicals make it into the rivers via industrial waste pipes, rain water runoff from farms, water leeched from land fill sites, and from treated sewage water let out into the river systems. The important thing to remember, is fish are exposed to these chemicals in combination! And on top of this they experience other stress such as over fishing and the effects of climate change. Fish are also exciting because species such as the Zebrafish share as many as 85% of their genes with humans! This means we can also learn about how these chemicals could affect humans if they are found in our food or drinking water sources, so that we can help protect humans too.

      I hope that the work my colleagues and I do to try and understand chemicals toxicity will help decision makers in parliament to make new policies which will regulate chemicals. It is important that chemicals which can cause harm are regulated, but also that chemicals which are safe alternatives are made available for farmers and industries such as the pharmaceutical industry. This is because we cannot live without some chemicals, like important medicines, and fertilizers used to make sure we can produce enough food to eat!

    • Photo: Stuart Atkinson

      Stuart Atkinson answered on 14 Mar 2016:

      Yes, it is about studying the chemicals we want to use before we allow people to use them! Something that seems quite harmless may have side effects no-one even dreamed of so it is important that things are rigorously tested before we wear/eat/use them!

      For example, DDT (dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane) was a pesticide used in the past. Like other pesticides it’s toxic to certain organisms and is used to keep them from eating crops. However, no one knew that it is bioaccumulative ie once in the environment it’s very hard to get rid of and just builds up and up. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were used in transformers as an insulating material as they were thought to be inert (harmless). They were later found to be carcinogenic to humans. And thalidomide was marketed as a drug to treat nausea in pregnant women in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was soon found to create birth defects and was rapidly withdrawn from sale.

    • Photo: Anais Kahve

      Anais Kahve answered on 14 Mar 2016:

      Put simply, toxicology is all about what makes something poisonous. The main concept that we think about is dose/response. This is where we investigate how much of something will give an effect, generally a bad effect.