Use of Genetic Data Urged in Chemicals' Risk Assessments

A report out Oct. 10 from the National Research Council says government agencies should work harder to incorporate genetic data into risk assessments of chemicals and medicines. The report calls for a concerted effort to fully develop the potential of these methods (collectively called toxicogenomic research) to protect public health.

Toxicogenomic tests can pinpoint individuals with genetic vulnerabilities and help them avoid chemicals or medications that might make them sick, NRC said as it urged a "major, coordinated effort approaching the scale of the Human Genome Project" to develop the technologies fully and to address the ethical challenges they present. The report also said a new, public database is needed to collect the massive amounts of data currently being generated by toxicogenomic studies, and a national "biorepository" is needed for physical samples that will be useful for future studies.

"We have just begun to tap the potential for toxicogenomic technologies to improve risk assessment," said David Christiani, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor of occupational medicine and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "To harvest public health benefits requires both greater investment in research and coordinated leadership."

The report urges the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and other stakeholders to explore the feasibility of starting a concerted human toxicogenomics initiative. NIEHS sponsored the study that produced the report. Copies of "Applications of Toxicogenomic Technologies to Predictive Toxicology and Risk Assessment" will be available at www.nap.edu.

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