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More Genomics in EPA's Future

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to implement a strategic plan for how it will evaluate toxic chemical risks in the future that will lean heavily on genomics and molecular biology.

The unique demands of toxic analysis includes a need for increased knowledge about life-stage vulnerabilities, genetic susceptibilities, and bearing an increase in the expense of toxic testing have pushed EPA to develop "a new approach" that is based on advances in molecular biology and computational sciences, EPA said this week.

EPA has sought to develop a new approach because its past and present one has "led over time to a continual increase in the number of tests, cost of testing, use of laboratory animals, and time" to develop and review toxicological data, EPA said.

The agency also needed to update its approach because of the challenges it faced in "obtaining data on the tens of thousands of chemicals to which people are potentially exposed and in accommodating increasingly complex issues," according to the report, entitled the "Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals."

In an effort to implement changes that would make the EPA more involved in molecular pathway analysis and genetic studies, the agency expects to work with the National Institutes of Health's Chemical Genomics Center. EPA already has signed a memorandum of understanding for a cooperation with the CGC and with the National Toxicology Program. The agency also has hired new scientific staff and has begun three new training courses in genomics that have been designed and implemented by its Risk Assessment Forum.

The National Center for Toxicological Research also has provided its ArrayTrack database to EPA for storage of genomics data for both research and regulatory use.

EPA expects that its new paradigm will create a more efficient and cost-effective means to screen and prioritize "the tens of thousands of chemicals that are already found in the environment."

The aim is to make it easier to evaluate the susceptibility of different life-stages and genetic variations in the population, and to understand the mechanisms by which toxicity occurs, while considering the risks of concurrent, cumulative exposure to multiple chemicals. EPA also aims to reduce its reliance on animal testing.

The strategic plan has three interrelated branches: using toxicity pathways identification to screen and prioritize chemicals for further testing; using toxicity pathways information in assessing risk; and making transitions at EPA that are necessary to implement new practices.