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Genomic technologies to identify toxic chemicals should be developed
Date:10/9/2007

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council recommends that government agencies enhance their efforts to incorporate genomic data into risk assessments of chemicals and medicines, and calls for a concerted effort to fully develop these methods' potential to protect public health. Chemicals and drugs often cause health problems by altering gene expression and other cell activity, and research on these processes -- called toxicogenomic research -- could eventually lead to more-sensitive toxicity tests that can supplement current tests, the report says. Toxicogenomic tests can also pinpoint individuals with genetic vulnerabilities and help them avoid chemicals or medications that might make them ill.

A major, coordinated effort approaching the scale of the Human Genome Project is needed both to develop these technologies fully and to address the ethical challenges they pose, such as protecting the confidentiality of individuals' genetic information, the report says. As part of this endeavor, which could be called a "human toxicogenomics initiative," a new database is needed to consolidate the massive amounts of data currently being generated by toxicogenomic 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."

Toxic substances and drugs can potentially disrupt gene processes within cells, thus disturbing the cells' healthy functioning. In addition, an individual's genetic variations can leave him or her particularly susceptible to the effects of chemicals or side effects of medications. For example, studies have shown that certain inherited gene variations may make some people more p
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Contact: Sara Frueh
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
Source:Eurekalert

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