In the human body, certain enzymes help to metabolize and eliminate foreign compounds such as drugs, but researchers don’t yet know in detail the time in human development when these enzymes appear in our bodies.
“By knowing the timing of the enzymes’ expression during the fetal and neonatal development, we can get a better idea of how early the fetus or neonate can handle drugs,” Liu said.
Knowing when humans start expressing these enzymes is important because fetuses and neonates might be exposed to drugs the mother takes while pregnant and nursing, Liu said. Without the SULTS, the body might not be able to detoxify certain foreign compounds, including drugs.
“By knowing that the fetuses and neonates have the mechanism that can detoxify drugs, physicians can choose better and safer drugs,” Liu said.
Liu and his collaborators in Japan recently received a three-year grant worth $700,000 from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science to fund their research. Liu and his lab will be joined by experts at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Monash University in Australia and the University of Massachusetts.
He said funding from this competitive grant was possible because of a longtime partnership with his colleague Dr. Masahito Suiko of the University of Miyazaki in Japan. Liu and Suiko have worked together for almost 20 years, and Suiko often sends students to work in Liu’s lab.
“[The researchers from the University of Miyazaki] have their strengths, and their expertise complements ours,” Liu said.
During the three-year period of the grant, Suiko plans to send several junior faculty members to Liu’s lab to assist in the research process. Suiko and his colleagues also will make annual visits to the lab.
The College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is in the planning stages of a formal exchange agreement with the University of Miyazaki.