Four Superfund Research Program (SRP) grantees were involved in the Advances in Causal Understanding for Human Health Risk-Based Decision Making workshop, held March 6 - 7 in Washington, D.C. The workshop explored how modern advances in bioinformatics can be incorporated into human health decision making. Hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) Standing Committee on Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions (ESEHD) and sponsored by NIEHS, the event opened with remarks by ESEHD co-chair Kim Boekelheide, Ph.D., from the Brown University SRP Center.
Novel bioinformatics and molecular approaches have advanced our understanding of how exposure to environmental agents influences pathways and networks that are involved in disease at the molecular level. However, since public health risk assessments rarely consider these molecular insights sufficient to establish causality, regulators still rely primarily on traditional endpoints from animal studies.
During a session on case studies of current approaches for determining causality, University of California, Berkeley SRP Center Director Martyn Smith, Ph.D., discussed key characteristics of carcinogens that provide a basis for an objective, systematic approach for identifying and evaluating mechanistic data. Michigan State University SRP Center Director Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., participated in a simulated debate regarding the use of human cells in toxicity testing. In the debate, Kaminski was tasked with challenging the traditional use of animal models and presenting the advantages of using human cells.
The NAS workshop brought together leading environmental health experts, including toxicologists, statisticians, sociologists, epidemiologists, regulators, and others to discuss the current thinking around causal models and how to move these ideas forward in decision making to better protect human health.