Laboratory of Cell Genetics:

Research group of Micheline Volders

Collaborative Projects

NEWGENERIS - Newborns and Genotoxic exposure risks

Development and application of biomarkers of dietary exposure to genotoxic and immunotoxic chemicals and of biomarkers of early effects, using mother-child birth cohorts and biobanks.

NewGeneris will test the research hypothesis that maternal exposure to dietary compounds with carcinogenic and associated immunotoxic properties results in in utero exposure and subsequent carcinogenic and immunotoxic events in the unborn child leading to increased risk of cancer and immune disorders in later childhood. Specific biomarkers will be developed and applied using high throughput techniques. The project will use existing European mother-child birth cohorts. New biobanks will be set up in different European regions to generate specific information, and to collect umbilical cord blood samples.

NewGeneris will address the following objectives:
(1) Dietary exposure of pregnant women to compounds with carcinogenic and immunotoxic properties will be calculated from available questionnaires from existing mother/child birth cohorts
(2) Epidemiological surveys of mother/child birth cohorts will study associations between maternal dietary exposure, and childhood cancer and immune disorders
(3) Paternal exposure to dietary toxins will be considered as an additional genetic risk.
(4) Transplacental perfusion in vitro will be used to better understand in utero exposure to selected carcinogens and immunotoxicants.
(5) In cord blood samples from existing cohorts and newly initiated biobanks associated, fetal exposure to these compounds will be analyzed, in comparison to maternal exposure.
(6) In the same samples, genetic pathways indicative for risks of cancer and immune disorders in later childhood will be studied by analysis of lymphocytic gene expression and proteomics profiles.
(7) Interindividual variability in responses will be evaluated by genotyping of infants’ DNA, and by phenotyping for DNA-damage and DNA-repair activities.
(8) Overall public health implications as well as ethical and risk communication issues, will be studied.
(9) Results will be disseminated through repre¬sentatives from EU food industry, advisors, regulators, and consumer organisations.


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ECNIS is a Network of Excellence which brings together some of the best European research groups in a concerted effort to achieve improved understanding of the environmental causes of cancer, of the potential of diet to prevent cancer and of the ways by which heredity can affect individual susceptibility to carcinogens, with the ultimate aim of reducing the cancer burden in Europe. In particular, ECNIS will focus on the utilisation of powerful, biomarker-based technologies to approach these goals. It is of great importance to support the development of new biomarkers as well as the application of existing and new biomarkers in the context of molecular epidemiology studies. Such studies will be conducted on populations from different regions of Europe with different climates, pollution levels and dietary habits, on a scale that is not possible under the present conditions of research fragmentation and one that makes an optimal use of existing European cohorts and biobanks. Additional research objectives of ECNIS are to facilitate progress towards cancer prevention through enhanced understanding of the mechanistic basis of action of cancer-causing agents as well as of cancer-preventing dietary components (including the development of functional foods), and also to develop and standardize procedures for improved cancer risk assessment. In addition, ECNIS aims at identifying knowledge gaps, proposing new research directions and conducting co-ordinated research. ECNIS will strive to link up with the rest of the European and world research community, generate training opportunities for new researchers and provide scientific support and advice to stakeholders, including regulators, industry and the general public.


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Fund for Occupational Diseases/ European Social Fund project: Development of an information system of the chemical risk in occupational settings

Chemical risks Partners:

The aim of this project is the development of an information system of the chemical risk in behalf of prevention advisors, ministeries (for exemple Employment and Work Public Health Care) Foundation for occupational diseases and the organisations, presenting the social partners. In addition of the often quite very scientific academic publications, the aim of this instrument is to offer via internet- technology information, useful and practical recommendations, fast accessible and up to date. The instrument focusses on the toxicological aspect of obligations provided by the Codex dealing with Wellbeing at work, often leading to difficulties in daily practice. In some cases (for exemple the KMO's) the difficulty consists of finding the information while in other situations the bottle-neck is to sort these, digressive information and to substract the headlines or even to phrase practical recommendations for the medical follow-up of exposed workers.
At the moment two independent instruments were developped, with each a special aspect of the chemical risk. The first is a methodological way of evaluation of the chemical risk compatible with the prevention policy at the basis of the enterprises, KMO's included (REGETOX: This instrument is developped by the University of Luik. The second is an evaluation instrument of the carcinogen/ mutagen risk (Carcinogenic Risk in Occupational Settings, CRIOS: developped at the VUB, KUL, ULg, RUG, and the UCL.
The current project is focused on the complementarity of these two iniatives in a partnership with the Fund of Occupational Diseases.

The project “Chemical Risks” of the Federal European Social Fund aims at the development of a strategy concerning education and information about chemical risks for workers and prevention advisers with participation of the workers and the people of the hierarchic line. This project is composed by TOXTRAINER (an education method- TRAINER- aiming at a better prevention of chemical risks -TOX- in occupational settings) and by TOXPRO (an information system about chemical risks


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BELSPO project: Physico-chemical determinants of toxicity : a rational approach towards safer nanostructured materials


Nanomaterials are engineered structures with dimensions of 100 nm or less, which achieve unique mechanical, optical, electrical and magnetic properties. Although these materials are already widely used in different applications, ranging from cosmetics and tires to medical applications, concerns about their effects on human health, in occupational settings and possibly for the consumer and the general population at large, are raised. A number of research reports have pointed towards their harmful effects on different target organs, which include the respiratory tract, the brain, the cardio-vascular system, the skin and the liver. Understanding how nanomaterials exert toxic effects and identifying physico-chemical determinants of nanomaterials toxicity are the main issues that will be investigated in collaboration with three other research groups (UCL-TOXI, KULeuven-LUNG and KULeuven-COK).

A single model material, i.e. silicon-based nanoparticles (SNP), will be used to assess genotoxicity and apoptosis in epithelial, endothelial and mesothelial cells by a reverse combinatorial approach. These in vitro data together with the in vitro data from the other research groups, concerning the production of inflammatory mediators by macrophages and platelet aggregation and coagulation, will be used to develop a paradigm for SNP toxicity that will be critically tested in vivo in two species (rat and mouse) with contrasting sensitivity. Additionally, the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the response to SNP toxicity will be investigated, focusing on interactions with the cytoskeletal proteins, induction of aneuploidy, effects on the DNA repair capacity and on cellular trafficking.


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