At a virtual meeting Oct. 9, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) responded to the new direction that NTP Associate Director Brian Berridge, D.V.M., Ph.D., shared with the board at its June meeting.
Berridge asked the BSC and ad hoc members to help NTP think about areas of strength that the organization can build upon. Consultant June Mader, Ph.D., from GOFORWARD, LLC, moderated the virtual meeting, which was organized into three parts.
Unique value for toxicology
During the first part, Mader polled the BSC about the unique value NTP could or should bring to the field of toxicology, or science in general. They were asked to choose among five responses, which appear below, along with the vote count.
- Ability to maintain focus on a challenge for prolonged periods of time — 9 votes.
- Relative freedom to operate — 3 votes.
- Experience set — 2 votes.
- Something else — 1 vote.
- Tools — 0 votes.
When the panel members commented on their choices, a consensus about the value of NTP became clear. The organization plays a vital role in terms of the long-range perspective, as well as taking on hard problems in toxicology and public health.
“I think having the expertise and the folks [to] address the difficult problems, with the ability to really concentrate on them for an extended length of time … is critical,” said Norman Barlow, D.V.M., Ph.D., from Seattle Genetics.
Updating vision and mission
The BSC responded to draft language that would update the NTP vision and mission statements.
Vision — To advance public health and the discipline of toxicology through the use of innovative tools and strategies that are translatable, predictive, and timely.
Mission — Solve contemporary public health problems by characterizing contemporary environmental hazards in human-relevant systems. Inform a future state that meets rapidly changing public health needs by bridging mechanistic insights to phenotypic outcomes.
Myrtle Davis, D.V.M., Ph.D., from Bristol-Myers Squibb, responded to the vision statement by endorsing the reference to toxicology as an advancing field, because the phrase recognizes the field as driving innovation.
Regarding the vision statement, Weihsueh Chiu, Ph.D., from Texas A&M University, expressed concern that referring to the characterization of contemporary environmental hazards might still imply an approach of studying one hazard at a time. He noted that environmental toxicology is now far broader than that, for instance, taking on complex issues such as mixtures.
The role of human relevance
The second part of the meeting concentrated on what the phrase human-relevant means for NTP studies. This raised the concept of personalized toxicology.
David Michaels, Ph.D., from George Washington University, expressed concern that the public does not understand the role of personalized toxicology as it is being developed by NTP. Many of the new approaches are aimed at providing mechanistic, predictive information to directly address relationships between exposures and human health, or phenotypic, outcomes.
“How do these new techniques and measures relate to what we’ve known for a long time through epidemiology and traditional toxicology?” he asked, pointing to challenges in both research and communication.
The third segment looked at the challenge of building confidence in decisions that NTP makes based on nontraditional methods, such as in silico, in vitro, or literature reviews. BSC members acknowledged that this was indeed a challenge, but also said they felt NTP was best positioned to carry it out.
Berridge was thrilled with the feedback. “With your input, we’re getting a better sense of where our focus should be and what strengths we truly need to leverage,” he said.
NTP scientists Ruth Lunn, Dr.P.H., and Amy Wang, Ph.D., updated the board on revised monographs for Helicobacter pylori and antimony trioxide, which were nominated for study as part of the Report on Carcinogens. Revised monographs for the two substances were recently released based on peer reviews earlier in the year.
“I’m really pleased with the way this format worked,” said NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., referring to the virtual meeting.
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)