Celebrating women in science: the toxicologist

Published: 8-Mar-2024

To recognise International Women’s Day 2024, Cristelle Santos, Consultant Toxicologist at Broughton, shares her experiences as a toxicologist to inspire more people to enter the field

With many new novel food products that contain CBD coming to market, extensive toxicology testing is vital to assess any possible risks associated with the ingredients, formulations and manufacturing process … and ensure that products are as safe as possible.

However, with only 3000–5000 toxicologists working throughout the UK in diverse fields ranging from forensic science to healthcare, actually what a toxicology consultant does isn’t widely understood. 

I first considered toxicology as a career when studying for my Bachelor’s degree in forensic sciences. I had the privilege of learning from two exceptional toxicology professors while studying in Portugal.

Both had worked internationally, so they openly and engagingly shared a new perspective and wealth of experience, which inspired me to pursue further training in the field.

Celebrating women in science: the toxicologist

After completing my course, I applied for a forensic toxicology internship and worked with a company to conduct toxicology screens post-mortem; this experience, alongside the fantastic mentors I had, was influential in my choice to return to university for my Master’s degree and become a toxicologist.

The role of a toxicologist

My main duty is assessing the possible risks associated with exposure to different chemicals and substances, and evaluating the safety of products. Toxicology tests enable us to identify any potential adverse effects that the product has on human health or the environment.

With this information, I can advise on how to make improvements.

Early engagement between regulatory agencies, product development teams and toxicologists is key, because the information we gather crucial affects the decision-making process.

By screening ingredients, materials and other aspects of the product early in the process, companies can ensure optimal product selection from the outset.

For example, if we identify carcinogenic ingredients at the first stage of product development, we can immediately suggest adjustments that save resources while upholding consumer safety.

Adapting products based on toxicological risk can be incredibly rewarding in the long-term. One project I’m particularly proud of is the development of a safety framework for CBD products.

In this emerging industry, the rapid growth has exceeded the development of comprehensive safety standards in the US and globally. The framework proposes a standardised set of tests that can help manufacturers to create a strong foundation of safety to ensure consumer health.

As part of the Broughton Laboratories team, I am thrilled to be in an environment that prioritises the integration of toxicology into client services and delivers product safety and innovation for manufacturers.

Raising awareness

Despite its importance to public health and safety, I have noticed throughout my career that toxicology is often misunderstood; when people ask what I do, I usually tell them I’m a scientist!

Raising awareness about the role of toxicologists in public health is important to me, particularly in today’s market, wherein new products are launched daily.

Limited awareness often poses a challenge for toxicologists who must balance scientific rigour with product development timelines and budgets. Keeping up with regulatory updates from around the world can be difficult and requires constant adaptation of approaches to risk assessment.

However, lack of awareness can sometimes mean that product development teams do not always understand the need for rigorous testing, seeing it as a delay to their project.

By collaborating more closely with multidisciplinary teams to communicate timelines and results, toxicologists can conduct assessments without sacrificing robustness while balancing speed and safety. 

Market changes

In recent years, the food industry has increased its understanding of the importance of toxicology testing. As a well-established industry, it understands that compliance with regulations alone no longer meets the expectations of its consumers and stakeholders.

In particular, increased interest in wellness and eating healthier, less processed foods has increased the public’s awareness of food toxicology issues.

The cannabis industry, by contrast, is still in its infancy, so priorities differ. Maintaining regulatory compliance is one of manufacturers’ main goals so that they can meet the requirements needed to get CBD-infused products on the market.

As the volume of data on the safety and efficacy of these products increases, companies should consider how specialist toxicology assessments and reports can influence future product development, improve consumer confidence,and contribute to the industry’s growth and sustainability during the coming years.

To me, being a toxicologist isn’t just a profession — it’s a commitment to enhancing the quality of life and protecting public health. 

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