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Science experiences

Caren Helbing - Biochemistry and Microbiology

Award-winning UVic biochemist Dr. Caren Helbing (biochemistry and microbiology) is committed to developing new technologies for assessing how contaminants are affecting environmental and human health.

Over the past decade, she's provided advanced scientific tools and technical training to regulatory agencies and private sector companies to help them conduct meaningful environmental assessments.

Caren describes her research: "I look at how chemical contaminants in the environment can disrupt normal cell activity and cause disease by mimicking hormones. We use frogs to see which genes are activated before and after exposure to chemicals."

Why frogs? She explains, "Their transformation from a tadpole into a frog depends on thyroid hormones. Frogs are also very sensitive to chemical contaminants in water. This makes them a perfect early warning system for environmental health. Several chemicals commonly found in municipal effluents and personal care products interfere with thyroid hormone action in frogs, even in very tiny amounts. These chemicals are ingredients in things like anti-bacterial soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, plastics and fabrics."

"Thyroid hormones are very important to our health. In infants, they’re essential for proper brain development. If contaminants are affecting how hormones behave in frogs, as our studies show, our health is at risk too. We’re continuing to develop new molecular tools and methods for assessing the safety of our water and for evaluating the effects of contaminants on human and wildlife health."

Learn more about Caren's research with the Centre for Biomedical Research.

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Science Matters

Science Matters

Fall 2014


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