Drugs and other manufactured chemicals can not only produce unpleasant symptoms, they can also cause more serious health problems by altering biological activity at a cellular level, and can even disrupt gene processes, with potentially serious long-term consequences for those affected.
This was recently acknowledged by the US National Research Council, which has called on the US government to increase its efforts to protect the public from the health risks involved.
Scientists studying the genetic effects of toxins are aiming to develop more sensitive technologies that will identify toxic processes as they unfold at an early, molecular stage, long before symptoms appear, and thereby to be able to pinpoint individuals with particular genetic vulnerabilities, to help them avoid those chemicals or medications which might make them ill.
With this end in mind, stakeholders from industry and government, as well as academia, are being called upon jointly to support the implementation of a 'human toxicogenomics initiative' on a scale approaching that of the Human Genome Project.
First published in February 2008
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