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Researcher’s computing testing could help identify toxic compounds

Fri, 04/11/2014

LAWRENCE — Researchers at the University of Kansas School of Engineering are working on a new way to identify in advance whether a chemical could be toxic. Jun “Luke” Huan, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, uses an advanced computational method to analyze vast volumes of data on chemical compounds and determine which ones are more likely to cause complications in humans in small doses.

Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of Toxic Substances, Huan estimates there are more than 100,000 chemicals that have not undergone simple toxicological experiments. A vast majority of these chemicals pose little or no threat to humans, especially in small doses. His research seeks to identify potential threats in a faster and less costly way than traditional methods.

“Testing toxicity of chemicals is expensive and time-consuming. It takes a lot of resources and creates ethical questions because traditional testing methods involve animal testing,” said Huan, who is director of the Bioinformatics and Computational Life Sciences Laboratory at the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center. “The statistical algorithm we’ve developed helps identify which chemicals the EPA should prioritize and which ones are likely to be toxic so those can be tested first."

Huan’s research on predicting the potential toxicity of chemical compounds was published in 2013 in the International Journal of Data Mining and Bioinformatics and was featured in a July 2013 article in R&D Magazine. It was conducted as part of a five-year, $500,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, awarded in 2009 to further his work in bioinformatics. Bioinformatics harnesses computer analysis to learn more about complex biological information, especially molecular genetics and genomics.

As Huan’s team collects and screens data on chemicals, they’re working to create an open database that could serve as a valuable resource to any researcher interested in examining potential threats.

“We’re trying to establish a platform so anyone can send us information, download data and access it freely. We’re hoping to create a platform to help promote additional research,” he said.



Matt Menzenski, a graduate student in Slavic languages & literatures, took this photo during President Obama’s speech at KU Thursday. Menzenski says he was struck by how relaxed the president was in his delivery. He missed a chance to hear former President Bill Clinton speak in his hometown in 2004, but finally got to see a sitting president this week at KU. “The opportunity to hear the president speak is just one of many great opportunities I've had at KU. So many interesting talks and events happen here all the time. I try to attend at least one a week-- it's never hard to find something interesting to go to.” Tags: University of Kansas College of Liberal Arts and Sciences KU School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures KU Dept of Slavic Languages - Friends & Alumni Barack Obama The White House #exploreKU #POTUSatKU

Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See http://bit.ly/1xjjwJj). For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See http://bit.ly/1BoL9jv) The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (http://bit.ly/14fiBPl), associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.


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