Chemical World

Toxicologist Serrine Lau:

Investigating Molecular Crime Scenes

Serrine Lau is a toxin detective

Lau investigates how our bodies interact with poisonous chemicals.

Toxicologists study how


Which toxic chemical is in cigarette smoke?

Answer: Polyphenol

Found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, photo developing solutions, some cosmetic depigmentation creams

Hydroquinone is a polyphenol that yields toxic byproducts in the body.

Are All Environmental Chemicals Dangerous?

No. Even organic foods grown without pesticides are swimming in natural chemicals.

Using a Mouse Model to Study Toxins

To avoid exposing people to harmful chemicals, Lau uses rodents to study the interplay of genes and polyphenols.

Modeling Metabolism: Chemical Travels

Damage Report: Liver, Kidneys, Bladder

DNA Differences Can Influence Risk

Our DNA affects:

  1. How we metabolize polyphenols and other chemicals

  2. The function of proteins the genes encode

  3. Individual risk of contracting disease from chemical exposure

Which functions do proteins have in processing chemicals?

What do toxicogeneticists study?

Can you name a gene that has been linked to kidney cancer?

Lau Links Genes to the Crime Scene

Lau is isolating genes that may increase the susceptibility of mice to chemically induced kidney cancers.

Eker rats develop tumors when their kidneys metabolize toxic hydroquinone.

Some humans have a similar gene, which may increase their susceptibility to kidney cancer.


Lau's Findings

  1. A gene directs the production of tumor suppressor protein

  2. When this protein is lacking, cells lose an important safeguard against tumors

  3. In some humans susceptible to kidney cancer, the tumor suppressor protein doesn't work properly

Research Applications

What is toxicogenomics, and how can it speed the development of new medicines?