Agencies To Change How Chemicals are Tested for Safety
February 19, 2008 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the NIH Chemical Genomics Center, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have announced a collaboration to change how chemicals are tested for risks they pose to humans. The agencies will research and implement a new approach that will move away from traditional animal testing and toward tests that use cells. The approach was envisioned in the National Research Council's 2007 report Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy.
The report recommended a major shift away from animal testing -- which is slow, expensive, and has raised questions about its relevance to humans -- to in vitro methods using cells, cell lines, and cellular components, preferably of human origin. Researchers should focus on identifying "toxicity pathways" -- cellular pathways that, when sufficiently perturbed by a chemical, can be expected to lead to adverse health effects. It also recommended the use of high-throughput tests that can rapidly assess hundreds or thousands of chemicals over a wide range of doses.
Shifting to these methods would expand the number of chemicals that could be tested, generate data potentially more relevant to humans, and reduce the time, money, and animals involved in testing, the report said.
According to the new 5-year agreement, described in Science, the agencies will work together to test the new approaches and identify toxicity pathways. The colloboration will also sponsor workshops to train and get input from scientists, as well as lay the groundwork for using data from the new approach to inform the regulation of chemicals.