New tools, technologies, and approaches in toxicology were key topics at the Dec. 7-8 meeting of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC).
Board members received updates on NTP initiatives, such as efforts to reduce experimental animal use, new testing strategies for developmental neurotoxicity and skin hypersensitivity, new approaches to data, together with reports on recent scientific meetings.
Beyond the wealth of science, panelists and NTP staffers in attendance also enjoyed the opportunity to bid farewell to outgoing NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., at his final BSC meeting (see sidebar).
Hitting the gas
A major theme of the meeting was that toxicology needs to more quickly deliver to the public useful, reliable information about chemicals and exposures.
“As scientists, we have to understand that we can no longer take as much time as we used to in reaching decisions,” Bucher said. “People want answers now.”
One program that will speed up the process is the Rapid Evaluation and Assessment of Chemical Toxicity (REACT) program, which targets the potential dangers posed by perfluoroalkyl substances. Known as PFAS, these chemicals are getting significant regulatory and public health interest.
Reporting on REACT, Michael DeVito, Ph.D., acting head of the NTP Laboratory Branch, said that public expectations have changed. “People are becoming impatient with the pace of our traditional hazard assessment studies. Part of that comes with how we communicate and how society has changed,” he said. “We want information, and we want it now.”
Wrangling the data
As environmental health science data sets become larger and more complex, the need for new information resources grows. That is the philosophy behind the recent establishment of the NIEHS Office of Data Science (ODS), as Acting Director Stephanie Holmgren explained.
She noted that data must be FAIR — findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Her office has several initiatives in progress to advance FAIR practices at NIEHS, including the NIEHS Data Commons. The data commons is a system for accessing, sharing, and integrating research data and metadata, due to be released early this year.
Board member Norman Barlow, D.V.M., Ph.D., from Johnson and Johnson, said the NIEHS Data Commons is an important step forward for data access and user-friendliness.
Integrating and coordinating data from disparate sources is also a central goal of the Integrated Chemical Environment (ICE), an initiative launched in early 2017 by the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Methods (NICEATM). ICE is designed to provide high-quality curated data from NICEATM, its partners, and other resources, along with tools to facilitate chemical safety assessment.
The next BSC meeting is scheduled for June 19-20, 2018.
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)