Research

The Lavado Lab is a research facility housed within the Baylor Sciences Building (Baylor University) in Waco, Texas. Our multidisciplinary team specializes in conducting original research in environmental and molecular toxicology.

 

An overarching focus in projects conducted in our lab is answering questions related to human and environmental health effects. This includes questions about possible exposures to environmental contaminants and cellular mechanisms of toxic action after exposure.  

We aim to conduct cutting-edge research in the following areas:

  • Aquatic Toxicology.

  • Environmental Health Sciences.

  • Exposure and Risk Assessment.

Alternative Approaches to Animal Toxicity Testing

Toxicity tests are often based on in vivo assays, and although the results from these whole organism assays can be effectively extrapolated to the natural environment, the use of animals has been debated for ethical reasons, as well as for animal welfare issues. Initiatives such as the “3 Rs”, standing for Refinement, Reduction and Replacement, have been implemented to find suitable alternatives to the use of animals, increasing the need for appropriate in vitro systems for toxicity testing. One such alternative to in vivo studies is the use of cell cultures. Cell lines have become a cost-efficient and effective in vitro tool in aquatic toxicology as they allow for the determination of the interference with biological processes by contaminant exposure.

Our lab focuses on research on the use of cell lines in ecotoxicology. Their use has been increasing in recent years, and while several publications have reported valuable data using in vitro models. Thus, it is fundamental to continue the search for more suitable cell lines as models to select appropriate alternatives to address specific environmental issues and for effective ecological risk assessments.

Metabolomic Approaches to Biomarker Discovery

Metabolomics entails the comprehensive analysis of endogenous metabolites in biological systems and seeks to describe how this inventory of small molecules (the metabolome) responds to stress factors such as diseases, drugs, or toxicants. Metabolomics has been increasingly applied to human and wildlife diseases, leading to recent discoveries in disease-specific biomarkers and their mechanistic implications.

Metabolomics can detect, quantify, and identify the intermediate and end products of cellular metabolism in body fluids, tissues, and cells, thus providing a molecular phenotype that directly reflects biochemical activity. Among omic sciences, untargeted analysis of changes in metabolites concentration has emerged as a powerful tool in Environmental Toxicology.

Our lab does research on metabolomics and its use in xenobiotics metabolism and toxicity, preclinical and clinical biomarkers of toxic injury, exposome impact on human health and disease, and ecotoxicology.

Identification of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in the Environment

Increasing urbanization leads to more human consumption, including many consumer products (e.g. pharmaceuticals and personal care products) directly related to environmental contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). These contaminants have been a matter of intensive research, and several studies have identified the presence of CECs in surface waters. Unfortunately, most wastewater treatment plants are not equipped with the technology to effectively remove CECs, of which pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) can present important risks to water quality.

Fish populations in urban surface waters are commonly at risk from EDCs. Acute responses from exposure to EDCs are relatively uncommon; however, chronic effects are highly prominent in EDC-contaminated waters, especially for early life stages. These effects range from induction of the protein vitellogenin, reduced gonad size, and disruption of ovarian and testicular morphology and histopathology, to more severe effects such as complete alteration of sex ratios and feminization of male fish.

Our laboratory uses a combination of analytical chemistry, biomarkers of exposure, and field- and laboratory-based bioassays to provide multiple lines of evidence for evaluations of the estrogenic potential of effluent-dominated surface waters. This contributes to the development of advanced strategies for water and wastewater management in urban areas.