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Laura Saarimäki: Toxicogenomics provides a roadmap towards safer and more sustainable chemicals

Tampere University
LocationArvo Ylpön katu 34, Tampere
Kauppi campus, Arvo building, auditorium F114 and remote connection
Date3.5.2024 9.00–13.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Laura Saarimäki stands with her arms crossed. She is wearing a black jacket.
Photo: Roosa Tuominen
In a world that surrounds us with an ever-growing sea of chemicals, MSc Laura Saarimäki's doctoral dissertation tackles the pressing challenge of balancing chemical innovation and safety in the 21st century. Departing from traditional, resource-intensive animal experiments, her research explores the untapped potential of toxicogenomics in understanding chemical hazards, paving the way towards faster and more sustainable chemical safety assessment.

Thousands of new chemicals have been suggested to be developed on a weekly basis. Although this growing number of chemicals is essential for industrial development, often providing convenient solutions to ease our everyday lives, it also raises concerns of the hazards these chemicals may pose on the health of humans and the planet.

Chemical safety is assessed both pre-emptively and retrospectively. While the initial process is intended to protect human health and the environment through the definition of exposure limits and risk management procedures, many of the adverse effects of chemical exposure are only captured years down the line through extensive research, epidemiologic investigation, and environmental studies.

“Despite the regulations and rigorous processes dictated by the EU, only a fraction of the chemicals in the market have been thoroughly characterised for their potential hazards. The unfortunate reality is that we will not be able to close this gap with the current methods used in chemical safety assessment. This is just too expensive and time consuming, not to mention the increasing pressure to leave animal experimentation in the past”, Laura Saarimäki points out.

The need for a paradigm shift in chemical safety assessment has been recognised globally but the adoption of new approaches has been slow. Moving from the measurement of observable endpoints towards mechanistic characterisation enables the identification of chemical hazards in a predictive manner while also supporting the use of alternatives to animal models. Furthermore, mechanistic characterisation explains why a certain exposure is harmful, shedding light on strategies to mitigate the effects both at the level of the chemical’s properties as well as through medical intervention.

Toxicogenomics represents the core of these emerging mechanistic approaches. It is a field that combines omics technologies with computational strategies to uncover the molecular mechanisms of chemical exposures on biological systems. In her dissertation, Laura Saarimäki took a deep dive into toxicogenomics data, characterising its crucial properties and investigating how to address and improve these factors for more robust, reliable, and informative output.

“Omics technologies have been used for two decades in various fields, but the application of toxicogenomic evidence in chemical safety has been limited by the lack of standardisation and difficulties in analysing and interpreting the complex output. I sought to dissect the challenges standing in the way of more thorough acceptance of toxicogenomics-based approaches and provided systematic strategies to combat these issues”, Saarimäki clarifies.

The research was conducted at the Finnish Hub for Development and Validation of Integrated Approaches (FHAIVE) under the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University where Saarimäki continues her research today.

Public defence on Friday 3 May

The doctoral dissertation of MSc Laura Saarimäki in the field of biomedical technology titled Toxicogenomics Data for Chemical Safety Assessment: From Intrinsic Characteristics to Translational Potential will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology at Tampere University at 12.00 o’clock on Friday 3 May 2024. The venue is Arvo building, auditorium F114 (Arvo Ylpön katu 34, Tampere). The Opponent will be Professor Maurice Whelan from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). The Custos will be Professor Dario Greco from Tampere University.

The doctoral dissertation is available online

The public defence can be followed via remote connection