Cecilia Van Cauwenberghe from Frost & Sullivan’s TechVision Group explains cutting-edge life sciences and technologies that assess exposure toxicity when it comes to chemicals, including novel tools to address human health and environment
The increasing interest shared by government authorities, industries and the public, on sustainable environmental quality demonstrated by most countries aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals during the past five years has led to important discussions about the concentration of chemicals used in cities, mostly focused on the emerging risks to public health and environment risks. As a consequence, a new perspective regarding global environmental assessment and management activities are critically needed (Brooks, 2019), including a solid integration of green chemistry with ecotoxicology, that tends to moderate the exposure of citizens to hazardous substances.
It is relevant to highlight the role of the global market of chemicals and its huge impact on employment and economic growth. However, when inappropriately discharged in the environment these chemicals become environmental pollutants with the potential to generate a broad spectrum of acute and long-term side effects over human health, mostly affecting the endocrine function and the immune system.
Regional frameworks for standardised environmental risk assessment propose systematic processed for assessing the probability that adverse effects may occur as the result of exposure to chemicals in the environment (Sanchez and Egea, 2018). Overall, procedures begin with a strong formulation of a problem statement; the evaluation of the apparent routes, along with a study taking into account severity, duration and frequency of exposure; the prediction of the adverse or toxic effects; and ultimate risk characterisation. Nevertheless, the availability of data and/or models for estimating exposure and probable effects may significantly influence quality risk evaluations, therefore, notably affecting environmental safety decisions.
Opportunities and solutions
During the past two years, health and environmental researchers have started to focus on the use of predictive, high-throughput screening (HTS) assays to characterise the capability of chemicals of influencing biological pathways and its potential to produce adverse side effects on human and ecosystems health (Villeneuve et al., 2019). Indeed, HTS assays can be easily automated and speedily carried out run in 96-, 384-, or 1536-well plate formats with the purpose to measure the effect of a myriad of substances over a wide concentration range on a particular biological process.
Moreover, HTS assays can be enriched with additional chemical-specific information depicting the physicochemical properties of a substance, structural features, functional groups, etc., to categorise potential exposures and critical aspects to take into consideration associated with the uptake and metabolism. Additionally, an in-depth understanding of the underlying biological pathways may significantly enhance quantitative predictive modelling and simulation.
Additionally, other kinds of assays can be performed around long non-coding ribonucleic acid (lncRNA), a class of RNA exhibiting more than 200 nucleotides and lacking protein-coding potential. These molecules have demonstrated to take place in a broad range of physiological and pathological processes, as epigenetic factors. Therefore, lncRNAs constitutes a promising tool to assess the response of organisms to environmental stress, especially toxicity assays. Indeed, modified expression profiles of lncRNAs have been categorised health and ecosystem health status (Huang et al., 2018).
The scientific community is heavily committed to attenuate the effects of environmental pollutants and the emerging compounds in human health and environment. Beyond regional frameworks and standardised procedures, novel cutting-edge life sciences technologies are starting to play a significant role in the high throughput screening of chemicals and the subsequent evaluation of their effects on the whole ecosystem.
Stronger relationships between industry and research in toxicology and ecotoxicology in order to promote the advent of green technologies and circular economy are critically required to address present and future concerns around climate change and biodiversity decline.
I would like to thank all contributors from the industry involved with the development and delivery of this article from the TechVision Group at Frost & Sullivan.
1 Brooks, B., 2019. Greening Chemistry and Ecotoxicology Towards Sustainable Environmental Quality. Green Chemistry.
2 Huang, Q., Liu, Y. and Dong, S., 2018. Emerging roles of long non-coding RNAs in the toxicology of environmental chemicals. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 38(7), pp.934-943.
3 Sanchez, W. and Egea, E., 2018. Health and environmental risks associated with emerging pollutants and novel green processes.
4 Villeneuve, D.L., Coady, K., Escher, B.I., Mihaich, E., Murphy, C.A., Schlekat, T. and GarciaReyero, N., 2019. High throughput screening and environmental risk assessment: State of the science and emerging applications. Environmental toxicology and chemistry, 38(1), pp.12-26.
Cecilia Van Cauwenberghe, PhD, MSc, BA
Associate Fellow and Senior Industry Analyst
TechVision Group, Frost & Sullivan
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