Report calls for new directions, innovative approaches in testing chemicals for toxicity to humans

y pathways -- cellular pathways that, when sufficiently perturbed, are expected to lead to adverse health effects.

The committee recommends the use of "high-throughput assays" -- rapid, automated experiments that can test hundreds or thousands of chemicals over a wide range of concentrations -- to evaluate chemicals' effects on these toxicity pathways. On the basis of data from these and other experiments, researchers could develop models to describe responses in toxicity pathways, and other models to estimate the human exposure necessary to produce responses in these pathways.

Over time, the need for traditional animal testing could be greatly reduced, and possibly even eliminated someday, says the report. For the foreseeable future, however, targeted tests in animals would need to be used to complement the in vitro tests, because current methods cannot yet adequately mirror the metabolism of a whole animal.

Studies observing human populations will be needed to provide information on human susceptibility and "background" exposures to chemicals that people face every day, so that results of the in vitro tests can be properly interpreted. These population studies may also reveal health risks not previously identified through toxicity testing. In addition, human exposure data can be used to select doses for toxicity testing, so that the tests generate information on biological effects at environmentally relevant exposures. By comparing human exposure data with concentrations that cause biologically significant alterations in toxicity pathways, researchers can identify potentially harmful exposures.

Current toxicity-testing practices are long established and deeply ingrained in some sectors, the report observes. But it emphasizes that the proposed changes will generate better data on the potential risks humans face from environmental agents, building a stronger scientific foundation that can improve regulatory decision

Contact: Sara Frueh
The National Academies

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