Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

February 2016

Feds launch $1 million toxicity testing challenge

Innovative thinkers are sought for a new federal challenge that will help advance the field of predictive toxicology. The Transform Tox Testing Challenge: Innovating for Metabolism, issued on Jan. 8, will provide up to $1 million in total prizes for modifications to existing high throughput screening (HTS) designs and prototypes that allow both chemicals and their metabolite products to be evaluated.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has joined with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, also part of the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a new challenge. The goal is to improve the relevance and accuracy of toxicity data generated by automated chemical screening technology.

Adding metabolic capacity

“We know that, in humans, the body often transforms drugs or chemicals into alternative chemical structures, known as metabolites, as part of eliminating them from the body,” said Stephen Ferguson, Ph.D. “Some of these metabolites may be toxic.” Ferguson is a chemist in the NTP Biomolecular Screening Branch and serves as the NTP technical expert on the new challenge.

“Current high throughput testing approaches aren’t able to adequately address metabolite effects, limiting their coverage primarily to the biological effects of parent chemicals that come into the body,” he said.

The challenge calls on innovators to find ways to modify or retrofit high throughput screens to better predict the combined toxicities of parent chemicals and their metabolites.

“Not having assays that can evaluate both chemicals and their metabolic products is a real limitation,” Ferguson said. “Hopefully we will find effective ways to retrofit our existing cell-based assays.”

Three-part challenge

The challenge has three stages, beginning with a call for written submissions of practical designs that can be fully implemented. Innovators will compete for up to 10 prizes of $10,000 each and an invitation to continue to the next stage. Stage one submissions are due by April 8.

In stage two, the winners of stage one will be asked to build a working prototype that demonstrates the proposed idea and is backed up by experimental data. Up to five participants may be awarded up to $100,000 each and invited to participate in the final stage.

The final stage requires a commercially viable method or technology that is sufficiently standardized for the federal partners to demonstrate and test. Based on this testing, one participant may be awarded up to $400,000 for delivery of the winning method or device that results in a technology that can provide metabolic competence to HTS assays.

All segments of industry, government, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and others are encouraged to enter.

(Robin Mackar is news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)


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