Exciting Times for Toxicology: Creating New Predictive Models

By Dr. James H. Johnson, Jr.

image of a computer chip with wires coming offNext week, a number of my EPA colleagues will join toxicologists from across the world in San Diego, CA for the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo.” The gathering will feature more than 160 scientific sessions and 2,400 poster presentations, providing important insights into how the study of chemical toxicity can better protect public health and the environment.

Although this particular conference has been going on for more than half a century, these are exciting times for toxicologists. And I’m proud to say that EPA is helping lead the way.

Our researchers and their partners are ushering in a new generation of chemical testing and screening methods, developing “virtual embryos” and other complex models that use scientific data, computer power, and sophisticated calculations to mimic the potential effects of toxins on actual tissues and organs. With other federal partners, they are using robots to advance fast and efficient high-throughput-screening assays, greatly accelerating the pace of chemical screening while dramatically reducing the use of laboratory animals—and costs.

We are also supporting innovative, world-class research through our Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program. New STAR grants will be announced at the Society of Toxicology’s Annual Meeting (March 25 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.) when we will hold a kickoff meeting of our newly established Organotypic Cell Models for Predictive Toxicology Centers. This research is part of EPA’s Chemical Safety for Sustainability research program.

The research Centers are being established to develop three-dimensional models, sometimes called “organs-on-a-chip,” which can be used to replicate human biological interactions within tissues and organs. When developed and evaluated, these models known as Organotypic Culture Models (hence the name of the Centers) will help investigate the toxic effects of chemical substances. Such models are established from isolated cells or from tissue fragments, bridging the gap between conventional, single-layered cell cultures and whole-animal systems.

What the Centers learn will be used to develop computational models that can help predict responses and outcomes from chemical exposures, such as human disease and long-term effects on tissue and organ growth. The models they develop will also mimic biological functions such as a metabolic process.

If you are attending the Society of Toxicology’s 54th Annual Meeting and “ToxExpo” this year, you are welcome to come to the March 25th grantee kick-off meeting.

The impact of all this activity is a new wave of toxicology testing that is faster, more efficient, and far less costly. This will help us at EPA with our number one priority: protecting human health and the environment. That’s some pretty exciting news.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, which runs the Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program as well as other grant, fellowship, and awards programs that support high quality research by many of our nation’s leading scientists and engineers.

Please note: We’ll be sharing more about EPA participation at the annual Society of Toxicology Meeting throughout next week, so please check back to learn more.

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