Several federal agencies have unveiled a new high-speed robot screening system that will test 10,000 different chemicals for potential toxicity. The system marks the beginning of a new phase of an ongoing collaboration, referred to as Tox21, that is working to protect people’s health by improving how chemicals are tested in this country.
The robot system, which is located at the National Institutes of Health Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC), was purchased as part of the Tox21 collaboration established in 2008 between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program, and NCGC, with the addition of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. Tox21 merges existing resources – research, funding and testing tools – to develop ways to more effectively predict how chemicals will affect human health and the environment.
“Understanding the molecular basis of hazard is fundamental to the protection of people’s health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul Anastas, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, “Tox21 allows us to obtain deeper understanding and more powerful insights, faster than ever before.”
The 10,000 chemicals the robot system will screen include chemicals found in industrial and consumer products, food additives and drugs. Testing results will provide information useful for evaluating if these chemicals have the potential to disrupt human body processes enough to lead to adverse health effects.
“Tox21 has used robots to screen chemicals since 2008, but this new robot system is dedicated to screening a much larger compound library,” said NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D. The director of the NCGC at NHGRI, Christopher Austin, M.D., added “The Tox21 collaboration will transform our understanding of toxicology with the ability to test in a day what would take one year for a person to do by hand.”
“The addition of this new robot system will allow the National Toxicology Program to advance its mission of testing chemicals smarter, better, and faster,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS and NTP director. “We will be able to more quickly provide information about potentially dangerous substances to health and regulatory decision makers, and others, so they can make informed decisions to protect public health.”
Tox21 has already screened more than 2,500 chemicals for potential toxicity using robots and other innovative chemical screening technologies. The Tox21 chemical screening technologies were used to screen the different types of oil spill dispersants for potential endocrine activity during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
“This partnership builds upon FDA’s commitment to developing new methods to evaluate the toxicity of the substances we regulate,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
EPA contributes to Tox21 through the ToxCast program and by providing chemicals and additional fast, automated tests. ToxCast currently includes 500 chemical screening tests that are assessing more than 1,000 chemicals.