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The NTP: A Quarter Century of Progress and a Bright Future

By Robin Mackar
June 2005

NIH Director Elias Zerhouni chats with Sam Wilson
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni chats with Sam Wilson, deputy director of NIEHS, at the NTP celebration in Washington,D.C.

Chris Portier
Chris Portier, director of the NIEHS Environmental Toxicology Program, talks about the history and accomplishments of the National Toxicology Program.

Ever wonder what agency determines what chemicals are hazardous to your health? Well, in many cases it's the National Toxicology Program. The NTP, an interagency program headquartered at NIEHS, celebrated more than 25 years of scientific progress and its role in protecting the health of the public, in grand style this past May.

Notable National leaders in health and science, including NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, gathered in the splendor of the historic NAS building in Washington, D.C. on May 9-10 to recognize the numerous contributions of the NTP and to discuss future directions.

"The NTP serves a critical role for our Nation," said Zerhouni, during his opening remarks for the symposium. "It provides a venue where a consolidated approach to testing can occur. It exemplifies the best way to meet interdisciplinary needs."

Zerhouni proudly rattled off some impressive statistics regarding the media and public's interest in the work of the NTP, particularly the most recent Report on Carcinogens (ROC), which he stated had more than 1 million website hits within two days of its release and was covered in more than 200 press stories. The ROC, which biennially lists all substances known to cause cancer, is just one of many reports the NTP regularly releases.

Zerhouni, as well as other speakers, including a former Associate Director of NTP, George Lucier, talked about the promise of what they termed "predictive toxicology" - being able to predict whether a chemical might be a toxicant based upon studying its metabolism or knowing whether it affects expression of specific genes or alters specific cellular processes such as cell growth or apoptosis (cell death). "The NTP has the ability to tell us more about the role of genes and environment, and to predict how genes will respond to various chemicals," said Zerhouni. "The future of the NTP is very bright," he added.

Other speakers including, Bernard Goldstein, a Dean at the University of Pittsburgh, praised the work of the NTP, especially its role in primary prevention. "There is no way we can even put a number on how many lives the NTP has saved since its inception in 1978." He cited the Ames test, which is widely used to detect possible chemical mutagens as a life saving device that also exemplifies how NTP uses alternative to animal testing to conduct its studies.

"Reducing, refining and replacing animal testing with alternative methods," is a high priority for the NTP, said Portier, the NTP Associate Director at NIEHS, as he discussed the NTP's "Roadmap for the Future." The NTP Roadmap is a result of a yearlong process involving input from leading researchers from many fields who worked together to develop a strategy that takes advantage of new technologies. In addition to developing improved testing methods for the more than 80,000 chemicals now available in commerce, the NTP is a leader in examining safety issues related to herbal medicines and supplements, nanotechnologogy, and cell phone radiofrequency transmissions. "These are emerging areas that the NTP is at the forefront in addressing."

"A Roadmap for the Future" can be found at the NIEHS/NTP website

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