We are daily exposed to a plethora of substances ranging from particulate matter to plasticisers such as phthalates. To accurately assess the impact of these substances on our bodies, five VITO doctoral students went in search of suitable analysis models.
An initial study focused on exposure to phthalates through the food chain. Phthalates are used in the manufacture of glue and perfumes, but also as softeners for plastics. In her doctorate, Tine Fierens developed the En-Forc model, which supplements VITO's current exposure model, S-Risk, with risks related to eating habits and food preparation.
The doctoral thesis of Sofie De Prins uses biomarker measurements in children and adults to examine whether exposure to particulate matter is associated with oxidative stress, inflammation and changes to global DNA. Britt Wens in turn examined exposure to endocrine disruptors by means of gene expression analysis in blood cells.
Two other doctoral students conducted research into the usability of biomarkers for (preventive) cancer research. Wahyu Wijaya Hadiwikarta studied the possibilities for developing a better measurement of DNA damage based on the thermodynamic principles of DNA hybridisation. This new technology creates unique possibilities to detect mutations and biomarkers in tumours. Finally, the doctorate of Evelyne Maes focused on proteomics technology to develop an improved method for detecting intestinal cancer. All five of these doctoral students successfully defended their dissertations in 2014.