The NRC Toxicity Vision and Strategy: Missing Implementation Elements
The worst fate for any report that seeks to chart a new course forward is not to be criticized, but to be ignored. Fortunately, this has not happened to the 2007 National Research Council (NRC) report "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy." It has been the focus of numerous commentaries, workshops, conference sessions, and even a congressional briefing. Most recently, the 2010 Society of Toxicology annual conference had a theme (or track) entitled "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century" in honor of the NRC report.
Unfortunately, the primary strategy outlined in the NRC report for implementing the vision has not been adopted. The establishment of a new federal entity on the scale of the National Toxicology Program to house and direct the effort, as the NRC report suggested, was considered a non-starter during a recession. Yet there are several lines of research and development that are relevant to the NRC vision, with its emphasis on mapping key biochemical pathways, harnessing technology to assay chemical perturbations to these pathways, and modeling dose-response and extrapolation, all within a framework that emphasizes human biology and a systems approach.
The most relevant example is a federal partnership among the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Human Genome Research Institute, and the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences, dubbed "Tox21."
However, this and other laudatory efforts do not fully capture the NRC vision, and taken together, they do not fully reflect the scale and funding levels needed to realize that vision within a generation, judging from the rough projections in the NRC report. Moreover, there is little coordination among ongoing efforts related to the vision.
I and others would argue that what we need is nothing less than the toxicological equivalent of the Human Genome Project, namely, a Human Toxicology Project—a well-financed, coordinated, international venture that tackles the daunting challenges head-on. This surely would include not only the ongoing efforts but also complementary approaches that fill in the gaps and perhaps track the NRC vision more closely. The Human Toxicology Project Consortium, of which The Humane Society of the United States is a member, is seeking to develop such complementary approaches, as well as to champion the proposal of a Human Toxicology Project. Stay tuned for further information about this effort.
--Martin Stephens, The Humane Society of the United States, email@example.com
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