Issue Date: October 10, 2007
The U.S. needs to launch a research initiative on toxicogenomics similar to the one that decoded the human genome, the National Research Council says in a report released on Oct. 9.
Toxicogenomic technologies examine the effects of chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, at the genetic or metabolic level. Toxicogenomic information has the potential to enhance risk assessments and to affect regulatory decisions made by FDA, EPA, and other agencies. These data, however, "are not currently ready to replace existing required testing regimes" of regulatory agencies, the report says.
"We have just begun to tap the potential for toxicogenomic technologies to improve risk assessment," explains David Christiani, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The report says toxicogenomics holds great potential for assessing a person's exposure to a chemical and for screening new drugs and commercial substances for hazardous properties. These emerging techniques will eventually help identify which people are more susceptible to health problems from exposure to specific chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Plus, they will help determine how fetal or other early-life exposure to certain substances can cause adverse developmental effects.
More work is needed to bring toxicogenomics' potential to fruition, the report says. According to Christiani, "To harvest public health benefits requires both greater investment in research and coordinated leadership."
The report calls for an "effort approaching the scale of the Human Genome Project" to be led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This initiative, the report says, should develop toxicogenomic technologies and grapple with ethical challenges, such as protecting the confidentiality of people's genetic information.
Assembly of both toxicogenomic data and conventional toxicology information on hundreds of compounds into a single database is needed, the report says. It also calls for creation of a national biorepository for samples taken from people in clinical and epidemiology studies.
The initiative will require significantly more money than is going into existing research programs on toxicogenomics, the report says, and would benefit from public-private partnerships.
The report, "Applications of Toxicogenomic Technologies to Predictive Toxicology and Risk Assessment," is available at www.nap.edu.
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