Sabina Halappanavar, PhD

Research Scientist

By working with others and conducting high quality research, generate scientific information to help prevent or reduce risks to human health, and help Canadians make informed decisions. 

Current research and/or projects

Any foreign material, toxic substance or polluted air when deposited in lungs will induce inflammation, which, when uncontrolled, is associated with lung diseases and is a major contributing factor to the progression of long-term debilitating diseases of the heart, liver, brain and other tissues in humans. Inflammation is also associated with cancer onset. Dr. Halappanavar is investigating the ‘finger prints’ of inflammation following environmental exposure to chemicals that indicate potential for disease onset. The newly generated scientific information is then used to develop smart techniques and build strategies that can hep screen several chemicals for their disease potential in a time/cost effective manner. Some examples of ongoing research activities include:

  • Investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying tissue (lung, liver, heart and brain) toxicity and pathogenesis following environmental/inhalation exposures to novel chemical pollutants and technology-enabled sophisticated materials such as nanomaterials; role of tissue inflammation in substance-induced pathogenesis including fibrosis and cancer

  • Development of organoid cultures or organ-on-a-chip methods as alternative (none or minimal use of animals) toxicity testing tools for human health risk assessment of air pollutants, emerging chemicals, and nanomaterials in the environment

  • Development of complex but smart cell culture models to assess nanomaterial-induced tissue toxicity

  • Advancing the development of adverse outcome pathways for grouping, read-across and human health risk assessment of nanomaterials

Research and/or project statements

The number of chemicals humans are exposed to in their environment is increasing and the societal demand for scrutiny of the potential health risks associated with chemicals is also increasing. Traditional toxicology methods are time and cost ineffective to handle this demand and/or are not readily applicable to testing novel technology-driven materials. Thus, smart toxicology tools that are predictive of disease potential of a chemical are being developed. However, these novel methods are not validated for the purposes of regulatory decision making. 

Dr. Halappanavar’s team is 1) generating high quality scientific data to identify the early molecular origins of chemical-induced diseases, informing the design and development of novel cheap and fast methods that can predict the disease potential of a chemical early after exposure in a time and cost effective manner, 2) validating the new methodologies for their uptake in regulatory toxicology and 3) optimising techniques and strategies for human health risk assessment of novel materials such as nanomaterials.


Professional activities / interests

  • Adjunct Professor - Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.
  • Editorial Board Member
    • Particle and Fibre Toxicology
    • Nanotoxicology
    • Mutation Research - Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis


Education and awards


Ph.D (Faculty of Medicine, Department of Medical Biology, University Laval, Ste-Foy, Quebec), Cellular and Molecular Biology.

MSc (Faculty of Medicine, University Laval, Ste-Foy, Quebec), Experimental Medicine.

BSc (Bangalore University, India), Health Sciences.


  • 2016    Assistant Deputy Minister’s Award in the Category of Science.
  • 2016    Deputy Minister’s Award for Excellence in Science.

International experience and/or work

  • Advisor and co-author - World Health Organisation Environmental Health Criteria Document - Principles and methods to assess the risk of immunotoxicity associated with exposure to nanomaterials.
  • Science Advisory Board member - European Union Horizon 2020 nano consortia
    • Physiologically Anchored Tools for Realistic nanOmateriaL hazard aSsessment (PATROLS).
    • Grouping, read-across, characterisation and classification framework for regulatory risk assessment of manufactured nanomaterials and safer design of nano-enabled products (GRACIOUS). 
    • Development of Smart Tools for Gauging Nanodangers – Next generation tools for risk governance of nanomaterials (SmartNanoTox).
    • Performance testing, calibration and implementation of a next generation system-of-systems risk governance framework for nanomaterials (caLIBRAte).

Key publications

Research facility

251 Sir Frederick Banting Driveway
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9


Genomics and Nanotoxicology Laboratory

Mechanistic Studies Division, Environmental Health Science and research Bureau, Health Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

Adjunct Professor, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.