Understanding the scope and nature of human exposure to a variety of chemicals is an important research need for the twenty-first century. Chemical exposure, be it intentional (drug use) or nefarious (chemical warfare agent exposure), leaves a suite of signatures, or biomarkers, in the human body. Research at LLNL’s Forensic Science Center (FSC) focuses on identifying novel exposure signatures for a range of existing and emerging chemical threats, including toxic industrial chemicals, chemical weapons, narcotics, and pharmaceutical-based threats. With an emphasis on developing a robust pharmacokinetic and metabolic understanding, we aim to enable improved determinations of exposure levels (including chronic low-level), timelines, and metabolite signatures.
To identify these signatures, we conduct in vitro experiments in the FSC’s Biosafety Level 2 laboratories using human blood, urine, and tissue samples. Additional experiments can be performed using animal models within the FSC or in conjunction with LLNL’s animal care facility. Samples are processed with a variety of methods and analyzed using state-of-the-art analytical equipment in the FSC, including gas or liquid chromatography coupled to high-resolution mass spectrometry. The FSC also partners with LLNL’s Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry for pharmacokinetic studies using radio-labeled dosing chemicals.