Toxicology is a science that seeks to understand interactions of compounds with the body that lead to adverse effects. I was drawn to toxicology because it offered me the ability to explore a science that combines my passions for math, chemistry and problem-solving. My love for solving scientific problems was confirmed while I was pursuing my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. I had wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a six-year-old girl, but I continued to be drawn back to the lab and the stimulation and challenge of studying tough scientific problems. A bonus was that my experience in veterinary medicine provided an essential baseline of clinical knowledge that has helped me with how I approach biomedical research.
Toxicologists consider a drug target and its relation to the disease, but the focus for us is on the target’s role in healthy cells. This helps us to understand possible side effects that may affect a patient’s quality of life. Understanding the adverse effect profile can change how researchers approach administration of therapies or decide how to modulate targets. The data generated from early non-clinical experiments are highly informative as we look for new ways to address cancer while considering the changing paradigm in cancer survivorship.
The role of the toxicologist in advancing cancer therapies
Toxicology plays a key role in cancer research, beginning at the drug discovery phase and continuing through to critical decisions regarding clinical trial design. Early discovery toxicologists are partners in the search for that one molecule among thousands that may offer hope for patients. Later in the process, another toxicologist’s work may focus solely on evaluating a single candidate molecule with the aim of defining how the investigative drug can be administered to patients safely. Collectively, we are all working toward a goal of advancing novel therapies that improve people’s lives.
Developing innovative anti-cancer therapies requires a willingness to embrace the most modern technology to create new methodologies and protocols that can lead to breakthrough science. As toxicologists, we want to make our research better, faster and more predictive as it pertains to human safety and efficacy. This can include the ability to interrogate a therapeutic mechanism more closely, translate information more accurately from the lab to humans, or use digital technologies, like digital image analysis, to move the science of pathology forward in ways that were previously impossible with a traditional microscope.