Toxicogenomics can be described as the field of science that deals with the collection, interpretation, and storage of information about genome-wide molecular profiles within particular cells or tissue of an organism in response to the exposure to toxic substances. Toxicogenomics combines toxicology with high content molecular profiling technologies for genetics, (epi)genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics. Toxicogenomics research aims to elucidate molecular mechanisms involved in the expression of toxicity, and to derive molecular patterns that can be used as biomarkers to predict toxicity or the individual susceptibility to it. This approach will also generate the data to determine the safety and efficacy of interventions aimed at maintaining restoring or improving normal function.
Research within the Department of Toxicogenomics is focused on the application of existing and emerging omics-technologies, evaluating cellular responses at the level of gene expression (transcriptomics), gene expression regulations (epigenomics and microRNA analysis), the protein level (proteomics) or the level of the metabolome (metabolomics). In doing so, different platforms and technologies are being applied and compared, including microarray technologies, next generation sequencing and (stem) cells and organoids.
A significant part of ongoing projects aims to optimize and integrate the application of these technologies to human cellular models, for enabling a better understanding of molecular mechanisms of disease risks or disease manifestation. For this, the Department is also keen on importing the latest developments in human cell model technology, notably inducible pluripotent human stem cell-based models ((cardio-)myocytes, neuronal models), patient-derived adult stem cells (mesoangioblasts) or fibroblasts, and (intestinal) organoids. Major research efforts are focusing on elucidating mitochondrial dysfunction and pathology as a consequence of environmental and genetic causes. The Department focusses on developing novel approaches for prevention and treatment (safe drugs, autologous muscle stem cells with improved mitochondrial function). An important collateral goal of such in vitro projects is the development of alternatives to animal testing for the toxicological evaluation of substances.
A second line of research activities within the Department is focusing on the development of omics-based biomarkers (e.g. genetics (whole exome/genome sequencing, and transcriptome/epigenome profiling) to be applied in translational studies, specifically focusing on toxicological risk evaluation of dietary and environmental exposures, on risk-benefit analysis and on genetic predisposition.
The nature and complexity of omics data (in volume and variability) demands highly developed processes of automated handling, storage and data analysis. Therefore, a data storage and analysis infrastructure has been built which will be used by a growing team of bioinformaticians. The Department specifically aims to develop and implement relevant bioinformatics and biostatistical approaches, in order to retrieve the maximal amount of molecular information generated through the omics-based studies.