Lush Science Prize 2020

In 2013 Unilever’s Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) initiated a PhD project with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge as part of our research for assessing consumer safety without the use of animals.  The project aimed to develop computational models to predict how a chemical structure can interact with human biology and cause a ‘molecular initiating event (MIE)’ which would then lead to adverse effects.  These new methods are based on understanding the chemistry and biology behind toxicological effects.

Since the project began, the team have developed models for over 160 MIEs which are in use today as part of our early screens for assessing the safety of novel chemicals that Unilever wishes to use in our products.  Labelled the ‘MIE Atlas Project’, the ambitious long-term aim is to provide a view of how a chemical can interact with the global totality of human biology.  The project has so far supported 3 PhDs and numerous MSc projects with the original PhD student, Dr Tim Allen, now leading the research as a post-doctoral researcher.  The team’s work has won many awards at international conferences and been recognised by scientific organisations such as the Society of Toxicology, Eurotox and the British Toxicology Society.  This has led to the work being shared with leading scientists around the world, including Tim spending time working with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The latest award for the team is the prestigious Lush Science Prize, awarded to novel non-animal work which could be accepted by regulatory bodies.

Dr Paul Russell, SEAC Science Leader says ‘The Lush Science Prize is fitting recognition for the team’s hard work in creating a valuable tool which adds confidence to our safety assessments.  It maximises the use of existing human relevant data and as such is scientifically more relevant to the population that we are trying to protect than if we were to use animal-based tests.’

Dr Steve Gutsell, SEAC Science Leader says ‘The advent of a more mechanistic approach to toxicology and the availability of big data from high throughput assays have allowed the team to use the power of computational chemistry and machine learning/AI tools to address some of the fundamental questions needed to assess chemical safety without the use of animal tests.’

The £50,000 prize will be used to continue to develop the MIE Atlas through further research.

View the 2020 Lush Prize winners and a video about the work here.

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