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Biological Chemistry

Chemical risk assessment headed in new direction

by Britt E. Erickson
January 9, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 95, ISSUE 2

Exposure science, toxicology, and epidemiology are shedding light on how disruption of biological pathways causes disease, opening the door for a new era in chemical risk assessment, says a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine. Emerging tools, such as personal monitoring devices and sensors, offer opportunities to better characterize exposures, including in vulnerable populations, the report says. Computational tools are also getting better at estimating exposures, the report finds. Cell-based assays have come a long way toward evaluating cellular processes and responses, but such technologies are not designed to evaluate the toxicity of metabolites that form when chemicals are broken down in the human body, the report notes. Many in vitro assays, computational models, and high-throughput tools were developed by the pharmaceutical industry and may not be as useful for risk assessment of chemicals or environmental pollutants. “It will most likely be necessary to adapt current assays or develop new assays specifically intended for risk-assessment purposes,” the report says. The report calls for scientists in all relevant disciplines to collaborate to ensure emerging tools and methods are used to their full potential.

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