Indian Researcher Helping Doctors Understand the Impact of Toxins on Brain


An Indian female researcher is leading groundbreaking research on Neurotoxicology by analyzing the impact of metal and pesticides on the developing human brain. Her research also seeks to find the correlation between neurotoxicity and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay is working on a collaborative project with ICMR – National Institute of Traditional Medicine (ICMR-NITM) in Belagavi. She spoke to the scientists about Neurotoxicology, a field she has been researching over the last 17 years. Her particular focus has been on how metals and pesticides impact the developing brain, from prenatal to old age. She said:

“We are here at ICMR-NITM to help the scientists understand more about Neurotoxicology and how traditional medicine can be used to prevent and reduce neurotoxicity.”

Arsenic Poisoning and Its Impact

Sanghamitra joined the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) in Lucknow in 2007. She was the first one to research the collective impact of metals and pesticides on the human brain. Sanghamitra experiments on live subjects at her lab and cultures brain cells to expose them to those conditions that may be found in an average human brain. She says:

“Prior to that, everyone usually worked on an individual metal or pesticide. But I decided to work on a mixture of metals and pesticides as we are usually exposed to not one but a mixture of substances.” 

One of Sanghamitra’s critical aspects is arsenic poisoning and its impact on the developing brain. She further said:

“While arsenic poisoning is widely reported now, the reports are mostly about its impact on the skin. But it is not known that arsenic could impact the brain, especially those of children. It can lead to loss of IQ and memory. Arsenic could also lead to neuro-degeneration from an early age but it is very under-reported. It was the rareness of neurotoxicology research that drew me towards it and I decided that I would like to research it.”

Consumption of Tainted Foods

Contaminated drinking water is the main route of human exposure to arsenic. Widespread contamination of groundwater by arsenic has been reported in Bangladesh, West Bengal, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Ghana, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Hungary, Canada, the United Kingdom, and areas of the United States. Its presence in the environment can result from natural sources, such as erosion or geological leaching, or anthropogenic sources, including mining, industrial wastes, and fertilizers containing arsenic.

Other less common sources of arsenic exposure include coal combustion and incineration of arsenic-preserved wood products. Consumption of tainted foods, ingestion of kitchen dust, inhalation of indoor air polluted by coal combustion, tobacco smoke, and hand-to-mouth soil ingestion have been reported as additional arsenic exposure routes. Airborne exposures, especially in the vicinity of mines, smelters, and industrial “hot spots,” make further contributions.

Exposure via Placental Transfer

Arsenic has been shown to cross the placenta, and studies have also shown that in utero, exposure may occur. One study used arsenic-labeled arsenate and arsenite in pregnant mice. The arsenic passed through the placenta from the maternal to the fetal circulation using autoradiography and gamma counting. Other studies have also shown transplacental arsenic transfer in animal models.

Strong positive correlations have been found between the cord and maternal blood arsenic levels in arsenic-exposed pregnant women, and it has been demonstrated that levels of arsenic in cord and maternal blood were nearly identical among pregnant women living in an arsenic-contaminated area, suggesting the virtually free passage of arsenic across the placenta from the mother to the fetus. Individual arsenic metabolites are strongly correlated in cord and maternal blood (including dimethylarsinate, monomethylarsonate, arsenite, and arsenate). These findings suggest the developing fetus is at risk for arsenic exposure via placental transfer.

Farmers Are Exposed To Pesticides

 As part of her research, Sanghamitra also collaborates with clinicians from hospitals in Lucknow like Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences and King George’s Medical University; something IITR specializes in. she said:

“We collaborate with pediatricians, epidemiologists and geriatricians in medical research and treatment. It is seen in certain areas, where Parkinson’s disease is prevalent, that farmers are exposed to pesticides. In such cases, the clinicians at the hospital refer to the neuroscientists in the institute to help with the treatment process.”



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