There is a growing need for professional toxicologists to handle and manage toxic waste.
Disposal and recycling of plastic waste, examining the quality of food, drugs and pesticides and also research on preventive measures, and suggestions on corrective and management procedures are some of the areas that require inputs from environmental toxicologists. Most drug and chemical industries and tanneries in developed countries have toxicologists on board. “The day when recruitment of toxicologists becomes mandatory for industries in India is not too far,” says S.L. Maheswari, Director, National Centre for Neurotoxicity Research to Assist Drug Development.
Apart from toxicologists involved in management procedures of toxic impacts, preventive toxicologists who identify the causative agents of illnesses and the mechanism by which toxicity is manifested have a vital role in providing health care for humans and maintaining the health status of the economically important species. “Some of them work in fish aquaculture and bring in preventive measures against toxic impacts of pollutants and infective agents on fish and other aquatic species,” says Prof. Maheswari.
Runoff water from agricultural land and effluents of industries let into water bodies should be tested for pesticides, drugs and chemicals.
Testing on drugs
Another area which requires attention is drugs entering the market. New drug discovery involves assessment of the expected effect as well as screening the drug for other effects. Screening for any adverse neural, renal or behavioural effects should be necessarily done before the drug is released. Neurotoxicity research plays an important role in toxicity assessment.
Neurotoxicity research is also the science that provides the scientific inputs for assessments conducted to validate traditional drugs for international recognition.
The National Centre for Neurotoxicity Research to Assist Drug Development has high-end equipment for advanced research and provides specialised learning/training in evaluation of toxicity and development of new drugs which requires an interdisciplinary approach, involving both medical and science faculty.
The University of Madras offers several courses in this area at the department of Pharmacology and Environmental Toxicology, Chennai. There are M.Sc. Environmental Toxicology and M.Sc. Pharmacology, for students with a compatible B.Sc. or B.V.Sc. Further, the department offers higher degrees such as M.Phil and Ph.D. (in neuro- and nanotoxicology and environmental toxicology) for those interested in research, and MD Pharmacology for doctors. However, awareness about the scope of these courses is limited, and, in recent years, there are fewer students going in for research in this area. According to Prof. Maheswari, this work requires interest, dedication, practical knowledge and awareness of advances in various fields as it is interdisciplinary. “If you read Marie Curie’s biography, you will know what kind of dedication is needed for this work,” she adds.