National Toxicology Program (NTP) Associate Director Brian Berridge, D.V.M., Ph.D., introduced an updated approach to the organization’s mission at the June 20 Board of Scientific Counselors(https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whoweare/advisory/) (BSC) meeting.
Berridge, who spoke during his first BSC meeting as associate director, described the NTP Translational Toxicology Pipeline Plan as a strategic realignment.
Inform and innovate
Berridge said the new approach aims to inform the present and innovate the future, using contemporary tools such as literature analysis, animal studies, in vitro systems, and in silico or computational analytics.
These tools and strategies will be used to advance public health and the discipline of toxicology in ways that are translatable, predictive, and timely.
“Our proposal is to innovate at a robust pace and for good cause,” said Berridge. “By doing that, we’re linking the innovations to real problems. So we’re building tools that we need to answer the problems we have today.” Berridge aims to accelerate and to improve how NTP processes inform public health decisions about chemicals.
The concepts driving the strategic realignment arose from the comprehensive review of NTP operations that Berridge undertook upon his arrival. He emphasized the complexity of NTP research and the breadth of the organization’s scientific endeavors. “This is a multifaceted operation,” Berridge noted.
Members of the board engaged in a spirited discussion of the approach. Several asked for more details about how it would be carried out. “Some of this is more conceptual than detailed, but I think that reflects the stage of our conversation,” he replied.
Much of the remainder of the BSC meeting was devoted to updates about NTP research on cell phone radiofrequency radiation (RFR), bisphenol A (BPA) and related chemicals, crumb rubber, and more.
The scientists presenting the updates provided examples of the strategic realignment in action and NTP’s long-standing willingness to tackle tough scientific problems.
Toxicologist Michael Wyde, Ph.D., described plans for follow-up studies to the ambitious, long-term RFR studies that were peer reviewed in March. The newer research program, which he termed RFR 2.0, has several goals.
- Further clarify and fill knowledge gaps in the NTP studies on RFR.
- Address concerns raised during the peer review.
- Probe potential mechanisms for RFR-inducted effects.
- Confirm RFR-induced DNA damage in the brain of rats and mice.
- Establish biomarkers of exposures to apply to studies of newer and emerging RFR-based communication technologies.
“We’re studying radiofrequency, trying to establish whether there are, in fact, biologic effects that can be related to exposure,” said NTP Senior Scientist John Bucher, Ph.D. “If we can do that in short-term studies that might last weeks rather than years, we can do many studies and come up with a set of biomarkers to evaluate different technologies.”
BPA and related chemicals
NTP Deputy Division Director for Research Nigel Walker, Ph.D., updated the BSC about NTP research on BPA. Newer work to characterize the more than 20 related chemicals, or analogues, is also progressing.
“I like this approach,” said BSC member Norman Barlow, D.V.M., Ph.D., as he endorsed the BPA analogues evaluation project. He suggested that assessing related compounds by chemical class was a good place to start for developing new methods that support making quicker decisions on chemicals.
Ad hoc board member Susan Tilton, Ph.D., agreed. “In terms of thinking about strategic realignment, this kind of case study with these analogues is a great project to apply it to,” she observed.
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)