Frederik-Jan van Schooten is a Professor of Genetic Toxicology at Maastricht University Medical Centre and is the Head of Department for the Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology. As part of the Toxicology Research Editorial Board and one of the journal’s Associate Editors we took this opportunity to ask him a few questions:
1. What led you to specialise in toxicology?
For the past 30 years I have been working in the field of chemical carcinogenesis and genetic toxicology. From the beginning of my scientific career it has fascinated me how chemical carcinogens induce cancer through damaging DNA and disrupting cellular control, especially how people differ in their response. The question why certain people have an increased susceptibility to chemical exposure and have an enhanced risk of getting cancer is intriguing to me. In toxicology it all comes together; chemical structures, biochemistry, biology, individual susceptibility for disease, and of course how to implement all this knowledge into assessing risks and onto policy making.
2. What do you think are the most important developments in the field of toxicology at the moment?
Toxicology has grown into a real multidisciplinary discipline. It is not anymore describing phenomena by, for instance, treating animals with a chemical carcinogen and then counting the number of tumours that ultimately arise. Nowadays it is strongly orientated towards molecular mechanisms behind chemical exposures leading to disease by making use of state of the art technologies such as genomics, proteomics and metabolomics. Next to that is the emerging arena of the exposome that is the analytical challenge to judge a person’s lifetime exposure. An important development is the importance of knowing at what time during life we are exposed and especially the prenatal exposure window is increasingly becoming of interest via epigenetic imprinting. The following quote is still inspiring me: “What is it that is not a poison? All things are poisons and nothing is without poison. It is the dose only that makes a thing not a poison.” Who said this a long time ago? Right; Paracelsus, 1493-1541.
3. How do you envisage toxicology research developing in the future?
Toxicology is developing into a real important and modern field of science that is highly relevant for society. It integrates all modern insights in science and the gained knowledge is increasingly important for an array of societal applications including refinement of risk assessment, replacement of animals in chemical testing and also applications in translational medicine by judging side effects of therapeutics.
4. You’re one of the Associate Editors for Toxicology Research. What excites you most about your new role?
To say it bluntly, it is my desire to help to make Toxicology Research one of the leading journals dealing with chemical exposures and its effects in ecosystems to humans. I think that science should not be restricted to certain disciplines and that we can learn when crossing borders. And that we should use our imagination and creativity as much as possible to find solutions for the global environmental and societal problems we are facing. I am very proud to be part of a team that has the ambition to go beyond our self-imposed boundaries. Therefore I encourage the scientists to let loose their creativity and submit these papers to this inter-disciplinary journal.
5. What advice would you give to the students who will be the next generation of scientists?
Research is very exciting. When I was a PhD student I remember how I biked to work in the morning, wondering what my experiment in the lab that night had done. I know that students first have to study hard to gain knowledge before becoming a scientist and sometimes this can be boring. But I advise them to push through because science is so exciting. Once a scientist, many times during the course of their experiments they may face troubles but it is very rewarding when the expectations come true. So, don’t give up because we need young and gifted people.
6. If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
If possible something in a creative direction; perhaps an artist or actor. However I cannot imagine not being in science.