Joining the Tox21 programme, which began in 2008, will help the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) further development of methods used to evaluate the toxicity of substances it regulates.
“The addition of FDA to this effort allows biomedical researchers and regulatory scientists to work together side by side to more rapidly screen chemicals and find more effective ways to protect the health of the public”, said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Toxicology Program (NTP).
As well as developing models to better predict human response to chemicals, the FDA will work with the other federal agencies to prioritise chemicals that need more extensive toxicological evaluation.
There are tens of thousands of chemicals in commerce and current testing methods can be expensive and time consuming. Consequently, improving methods and prioritising potentially harmful chemicals will help federal agencies cope with the load they face.
Since forming Tox21 in 2008 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the NTP and the National Institute of Health Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC) have worked towards these goals.
“Through the Tox21 collaboration, 2,000 chemicals have already been screened against dozens of biological targets”, Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of research & development. The goal is to screen 10,000 chemicals by the end of the year.
A central aspect of the project has been the use of the robotic screening and informatics platform operated by the NCGC. This uses fast, automated tests to screen thousands of chemicals a day for toxicological activity in cells.
“Our robots screen in a day what would take one person a year to do by hand, allowing a fundamentally different approach to toxicology that is comprehensive and based on molecular mechanisms”, said Christopher Austin, director of the NCGC.