Justin Dankwa is a doctoral student with a fulltime scholarship in the CHRC at Brunel University London. His research focuses on the impact of mixed radiation and chemicals exposure on neuronal toxicity and cellular ageing.

Justin holds an Honours BSc in Biochemistry and MSc in Bioinformatics from the University of Leicester. Prior to joining the CHRC, Justin worked for a year with the Neuro, Emergency and Trauma (NET) Clinical Research Team at Imperial College NHS Trust investigating Sepsis. 

Justin is a keen sportsman and enjoys playing football and coaching in his spare time. Aside that, his interests lay in music playing the acoustic and bass guitar as part of his church’s worship team.

Justin joined the team in April 2020 and is being supervised by Dr Rhona Anderson and Dr Cristina Sisu on a project titled ‘The impact of mixed radiation and chemicals exposure on neuronal cytotoxicity, ageing and transcription’.

Justin Dankwa
Justin Dankwa

What is the aim of this study?
The aim of Justin’s project is to explore the adverse effects of radiation and chemical exposures on normal human brain functioning. In recent years, information relating to the biological response following exposure and possible risk-factors for cognitive impairment, have been emerging. To build on this growing body of knowledge Justin’s project will use publicly-available large-scale next generation DNA sequencing brain datasets to identify and study changes in genome sequence, function and activity of brain cells. This will improve our understanding of the impact of radiation and chemical exposures on the brain, particularly after low-moderate doses. It may also enable us to identify new mutations and genetic biomarkers associated with adverse effect.  

Why we are doing this?
As humans, we are continuously exposed to varying levels of radiation and chemical pollutants from the environment, during medical procedures and as a consequence of some occupations. Exposure could possibly result in an increased risk of damage to our cells and to our DNA. 

In recent years, evidence has been emerging showing ionising radiation as a possible risk-factor for cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment includes deficits in learning, memory, and information processing ability. For instance, some studies show that prenatal exposures may affect brain development and cognitive functioning however there is much more uncertainty about its effects when individuals are exposed as adolescents and adults. This is particularly the case for low-moderate dose exposures commonly seen in medical and occupational settings and highlights the need to increase our understanding on the biological processes and pathways surrounding the adverse effects of radiation on neural cells. For a review on the topic please see Collett et al 2020.

Why this study is important?
The outcomes of this study will contribute to the growing body of knowledge surrounding exposure to radiation and chemicals as sole agents or as mixtures and their effect on the brain. Our findings should elucidate on biological responses and the adverse pathways that can lead to cognitive impairments and contribute to a deeper understanding on potential health risks of such exposures. 

What does it involve?
This is a data-driven project. Publicly-available large-scale next generation DNA sequencing brain datasets will be analysed using a combination of bioinformatic and statistical tools. In the first instance, genes that are mutated or have a differential expression pattern in radiation exposed subjects compared to healthy individuals will be identified. This will inform on particular biological pathways of interest which will then be explored further.