Environmental Factor, May 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NTP board supports folic acid workshop, nanomaterials program, and more
By Ernie Hood
The NTP Board of Scientific Counselors reviewed several proposed new programs at its April 13 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D., updated the panel on NTP activities and development since the last BSC meeting in January. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Dori Germolec, Ph.D., briefed the BSC on the contract recompetition for investigation of agents that may induce immunotoxicity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
The "ayes" had it, and the BSC voted to approve the contract concept on immunotoxicity. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
David Eastmond, Ph.D., of the University of California at Riverside, chaired the April 13 NTP BSC meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
The NTP Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) gave several scientific initiatives the "thumbs up" when it met April 13 at the Rodbell Auditorium on the NIEHS main campus.
Among the projects supported by the BSC was a workshop concept proposed by the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), which is slated to be re-named the Office of Health Assessment and Translation under the impending re-organization of NTP. The workshop, to be held in March 2012 in Washington, D.C., will focus on clarifying the potential adverse health effects of excess intake of folic acid. The event is being developed in conjunction with the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
Workshop on excess folic acid supplementation
While folic acid supplementation to prevent neural tube defects has been one of the major public health success stories of recent years, a growing body of research suggests that folic acid intake over the recommended daily allowance may be associated with adverse health effects in adults and children, including in utero exposure developmental and epigenetic effects, cardiovascular disease, cancer incidence and progression, and neurological and psychiatric disorders.
The proposed workshop will gather experts to review and clarify current related human literature, as well as animal and in vitro literature as it may apply to humans, and will identify data gaps to help guide future research.
Although the BSC was not unanimously behind the project, overall the panel members were enthusiastic in their support. U.S. Food and Drug Administration liaison Paul Howard, Ph.D., commented that the effort was reminiscent of CERHR's work on bisphenol A. "I think this is an excellent opportunity to do the same thing," he said. "People are making decisions without knowing the full basis of the literature and having vetted it, and this is an excellent service by NTP and NIEHS - to get experts together, vet the literature, and say, 'This is what stands up as being good science.'"
Testing safety of engineered nanomaterials
The BSC also favored another NTP research concept presented at the meeting - a collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) Nanotechnology Research Center to extend and expand field exposure assessment studies involving engineered nanomaterials. The proposal covers a three-year period, during which NIOSH will conduct exposure assessment surveys at 12 sites involved in the manufacture or use of 16 representative manufactured nanomaterials determined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The materials include well-known and highly used nanoparticles such as fullerenes, single-walled carbon nanotubes, and titanium dioxide, as well as lower-profile or emerging nanomaterials such as graphene platelets and nanocrystalline cellulose.
With the economic importance and use of engineered nanomaterials rapidly increasing, many questions about their impact on health and safety remain unanswered, particularly in occupational settings, where human exposure is most likely. The proposed NTP/NIOSH nanotoxicological studies will target dermal and inhalation exposures in the workplace, examining endpoints such as inflammation, oxidant stress, fibrosis, and translocation. The investigations will increase the overall body of knowledge on the characterization, volume, and specific applications being developed for nanomaterials intended for commercialization, and will help guide future decisions about which nanomaterials to test and how to test them.
Some BSC members felt that the scale of the proposed program was too limited given the scope of the issues involved, but were reassured when NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., reminded them that it was just one part of the much wider NIEHS/NTP efforts in nanosafety research. "This is just one piece of a much larger puzzle," she said.
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)
In other business
At its April 13 meeting, the board also voted in favor of a contract concept for recompetition of an existing contract for research into chemicals, drugs, or other environmental agents that are potential hazards affecting the human immune system. The new contract will increase emphasis on evaluation of developmental immunotoxicity. The BSC was also updated on NTP's modified one-generation reproduction study design, statistical methods used in NTP Technical Reports, and a proposed new network of biospecimen repository resources.