Environmental Factor, August 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NTP Leadership Looks Forward at Summer Board Meeting
By Eddy Ball
When the National Toxicology Program (NTP) Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) met at NIEHS July 23-24, the group faced the usual order of business with reviews, reports, nominations and concepts, and interagency agreements (see text box). (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/august/science-public.cfm#bluebox)
Early in the meeting, members also learned of new developments on the horizon in regard to public health and communication of potential health risk, as the NTP enters its fourth decade and evolves to meet the challenge of the NTP Vision for the 21st Century. (http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/?objectid=720163BA-BDB7-CEBA-F282B5977D9A571E) The themes introduced in the first few hours of the meeting emerged repeatedly in discussions over the next day and a half.
The meeting opened with a welcome from BSC Chair Kenneth Portier, Ph.D., director of statistics for the American Cancer Society. NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., made the first presentation of the meeting with her welcome and report, which emphasized the integration of all parts of NIEHS and NTP in pursuit of the Institute's public health mission.
Much of Birnbaum's report was an update on her recent activities and initiatives, as she shared her thoughts "on where we're going in the next couple of months." She described searches for open leadership positions and plans to re-establish the Institute's office in Bethesda with at least three high-level liaisons - "one to the public health community, one to the toxicology community and one to the HHS [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] community."
As part of her continuing efforts to increase participation and interaction with partners and stakeholders, Birnbaum told the BSC about a pending Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that "will allow us to have full collaboration and integration of some facilities... and other opportunities for sharing." Birnbaum said her emphasis on partnerships and outreach in recent speaking engagements (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/august/spotlight-birnbaum.cfm) at venues, such as the Toxicology Forum in Aspen, is part of her commitment to "more collaboration in strengthening environmental health research across the government."
Birnbaum also took the occasion to look even farther ahead into the future of toxicology and public health as she referred to her "new vision for NIEHS and NTP." Practical implications for NTP include increased emphasis on integrating alternative testing with "gold-standard" NTP animal studies, early life exposure with the inclusion of gestational exposures in rat studies and determination of "internal dose" - as well as administered dose - for more meaningful cross-species extrapolation of potential adverse health effects.
NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., followed Birnbaum with the "NTP Update" and more indications of new directions the agency will take in the future that reflect "the beginning stages of Linda's commitment to reinvigorating the National Toxicology Program." In his report, Bucher reviewed staffing changes, recent meetings, alternative testing (see related Science story on the latest international expert panel report), (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2009/august/science-public.cfm) Report on Carcinogens expert panels and ongoing developments in response to the NTP report on bisphenol A.
Midway in his report, Bucher also addressed the question of interpreting findings of non-cancer studies - and the larger question of communicating risk in more useful ways for public health decision making as more and more data become publicly available from new testing platforms.
Making what he called "a shot across the bow... [and] an early-stage information item," Bucher turned to what he admitted will clearly be "an exceptionally difficult challenge for our programs over the next years" - as NTP explores how best to contextualize its toxicity data beyond "under the conditions of this study." Bucher said he foresees extended discussion among the agency's staff and its advisors as NTP finds a responsible balance between informing of risk to public health and qualifying the results of individual studies.
"I don't have a solution at this moment," Bucher conceded. "We're going to have put extraordinary effort into this."
Nominations and Concepts, Contract Concept Review and NIEHS/NTP Interagency Agreements
While the meeting began with an eye toward the future of NTP and NIEHS, the bulk of the meeting was devoted to the ongoing business of NTP (background materials posted online). (http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/index.cfm?objectid=826C6A6B-F1F6-975E-7806ED10E0E4AF5D) Still, as the presenters and board members considered the nuts and bolts of operating an interagency effort, what Birnbaum and Bucher said about public health obligations helped inform the group's discussions.
Nominations and Concepts -
After discussing and voting to accept recommendations on six compounds from the "Technical Reports Review Subcommittee Report of the February 25, 2009 Meeting," presented by BSC member Raymond Novak, Ph.D., the group discussed new nominations for studies. NTP scientists presented the rationale and study design for research projects on alkylanilines, doxynivalenol, dong quai, indium tin oxide, p-chlorobenzotrifluoride and Tris(4-chlorophenyl)methane and Tris (4-chlorophenyl)methanol.
Contract Concept Review -
Speaking for NTP, Michael Cunningham, Ph.D., Cynthia Smith, Ph.D., and Ruth Lunn, Ph.D., presented information on existing and revised contracts. The BSC voted to approve contracts related to Investigative Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism and Excretion (ADME) Studies of Toxicants in NTP Animal Model Systems; Toxicology and Carcinogenicity Studies; and Report on Carcinogens Support.
Interagency Agreements -
The board heard a report on interagency agreements with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by Bucher. The group also heard reports on studies supported through the agreements by NCTR scientist Paul Howard, Ph.D., and NIOSH scientists Mark Toraason, Ph.D., and Michael Luster, Ph.D.