Health Protection Research Unit for Chemical & Radiation Threats & Hazards


Models of In Vitro Neurotoxicology

People may come into contact with a very large number of different chemicals that are present in household products, at work or in the environment. For many of these, there is little information available on their potential toxicity in man, especially after repeated long term exposure. Toxicity affecting the brain and nervous system (‘neurotoxicity’) is a particular concern, especially after exposure during childhood, as the developing brain may be especially susceptible and neurotoxicity may produce lifelong effects. 

Although important, the identification of potential neurotoxic effects is challenging, requiring long-term studies in animals or follow up of humans who may have been exposed over many years, so methods that allow the rapid identification of neurotoxic effects associated with individual chemicals are needed. It is now possible to derive panels of stem cells from different individuals representing different specific genetic profiles. These are called induced pluripotential stem cells (iPSC) and they can be used for evaluating responses to chemicals using high content imaging at cellular and subcellular resolution. Use of human iPSC also provides a human based test system to rapidly identify toxic chemicals for their mechanism of action, without using animal or tumour cells as results from these may not be applicable to humans.

This project will develop a panel of human induced stem cells for use in screening for the potentially harmful effects of chemicals and radiation. These cells will be converted into different cell types, particularly nerve cells, and used to identify chemicals and radiation effects in key body tissues, especially the nervous system.