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January 2011

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NTP board reviews Biomolecular Screening Branch and Tox21

By Ernie Hood
January 2011

BSC Chair Raymond Novak, Ph.D.

Novak, who spent his final meeting as Board chair, listened thoughtfully during the two days of presentations, (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Predictive toxicology - the emerging science that uses high-throughput screening of chemicals in cells and cell lines to understand outcomes in human health and disease - was the focus of the NTP Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC)( meeting Nov. 30-Dec. 1 at NIEHS. Much of the meeting was taken up by the board's review of the Biomolecular Screening Branch (BSB), which is responsible for NIEHS/NTP participation in Tox21, the multi-agency, multi-disciplinary collaboration designed to initiate a new era in toxicity testing for the 21st century.

The first BSC review of the BSB and Tox21 comes at a propitious moment. "This is the first time that the BSC has had an opportunity to consider and comment on the breadth of our activities and our plans for the future," said Raymond Tice, Ph.D., chief of the BSB and the NTP point of contract for Tox21. "This was the most appropriate time to have this review as we move from our Phase I proof-of-principle efforts to Phase II, and from screening a library of approximately 2,800 compounds to one of more than 10,000 compounds, in addition to our other activities." (see interview (

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Tox21 was established in 2008 with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was expanded in July 2010 to include the FDA along with the original partners, NIEHS/NTP, EPA, and the National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC). Each partner has an agency point of contact as its lead representative, and is represented by a co-chair for each of the four Tox21 Working Groups: Chemical Selection, Assays and Pathways, Informatics, and Targeted Testing.

The BSC was briefed on progress by each of the Tox21 partners and Working Groups, and was updated on BSB activities directly related to Tox21, including the C. elegans "Worm Tox" Screening Facility, a collaboration with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that is probing mechanisms of inter-individual susceptibility to toxicants with population-based experimental approaches, a project exploring mining the NTP Tissue Archives for gene signatures, a program that is developing a bioinformatics-based approach to identify assays that query human health effects, and The Mouse Methylome Project, which is being conducted by the Host Susceptibility Group within the BSB.

BSC Chair Raymond Novak, Ph.D., who is corporate director of research at Shriners Hospitals for Children International, said the board's reaction to the BSB/Tox21 review was, overall, very enthusiastic. "They were excited about all of the different components that were brought together in a cohesive manner, the communication and the coordination that had occurred for that to take place, and the incredible opportunities that exist to achieve a final product that could be directed toward a rational approach to risk assessment in human populations," he said. As Novak explained, the bottom line is that "if the NTP and all of these other resources can't get predictive toxicology to work, then no one can."

The next BSC meeting is scheduled for April 12-13, 2011.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Raymond Tice, Ph.D.

Tice, shown at an earlier talk about Tox21 high-throughput screening, was the keynotes speaker during the review of BSB and Tox21. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

David Dix, Ph.D.

David Dix, Ph.D., updated the BSC on Tox21 developments and activities at the EPA. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Board member James Sherley, M.D., Ph.D.

"Board member James Sherley, M.D., Ph.D., from the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, commented on one of the BSC meeting presentations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dr. Birnbaum asks a question

Relishing the opportunity to "do science" for two days, Birnbaum asked many questions over the course of the BSC meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Board members, left to right: Ruthann Rudel, and Russell Cattley, V.M.D., Ph.D.

Board members Ruthann Rudel, left, of the Silent Spring Institute, and Russell Cattley, V.M.D., Ph.D., of Amgen, paid close attention to the updates on Tox21 and the BSB. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In other business

During her update to the Board on Institute developments, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., announced the appointments of Richard Woychik, Ph.D., as the new deputy director of NIEHS (see story ( and Gwen Collman, Ph.D., as director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training (see story ( She also presented retiring board members Tracie Bunton, D.V.M., Ph.D., Edward Carney, Ph.D., Russell Cattley, Ph.D., William Janzen, Ph.D., and departing chair Novak with certificates of service as she thanked them for their contributions to NTP.

Looking back on his tenure with the NTP BSC, Novak said, "It was a great experience. It offered an opportunity to provide inputs and make comments on various studies that were either being proposed or had been completed, for which a determination had to be made. It was also an opportunity to make a difference, and to make a difference from a long-term perspective."

In other business, the BSC voted to support a Contract Concept for a program to perform sperm count and vaginal cytology evaluations on tissues obtained from animals in the NTP's 90-day toxicity studies. The Board also reviewed NTP Testing Program Concepts regarding men working with bisphenol A; toxicological approaches to assessing complex mixtures; N-butylbenzenesulfonamide; and selected flame retardants (see meeting materials online(

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