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Vol. LVII, No. 11
June 3, 2005
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And a Bright Future
The National Toxicology Program: A Quarter Century of Progress

 
NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni (l) talks with Dr. Sam Wilson, acting deputy director of NIEHS.  
Ever wonder what agency determines what chemicals are hazardous to your health? In many cases, it's the National Toxicology Program. The NTP, an interagency program within HHS headquartered at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, celebrated more than 25 years of scientific progress and its role in protecting the health of the public in May.

National leaders in health and science, including NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, gathered in the NAS building in Washington May 9-10 to recognize the numerous contributions of the NTP and to discuss future directions.

"The NTP serves a critical role for our nation," said Zerhouni. "It provides a venue where a consolidated approach to testing can occur. It exemplifies the best way to meet interdisciplinary needs."

He proudly noted some impressive statistics regarding the media and public's interest in the work of the NTP, particularly the most recent Report on Carcinogens (ROC), which he said had more than 1 million web site hits within 2 days of its release and was covered in more than 200 press stories. The ROC, which biennially lists all substances known to cause cancer, is just one of many reports NTP regularly releases.

 
  NTP deputy director Dr. Chris Portier gives presentation at the symposium.
Zerhouni, as well as other speakers, including a former associate director of NTP, Dr. George Lucier, talked about the promise of what they termed "predictive toxicology" — being able to predict whether a chemical might be a toxicant based upon studying its metabolism or knowing whether it affects expression of specific genes or alters cellular processes such as cell growth or apoptosis (cell death). "The NTP has the ability to tell us more about the role of genes and environment, and to predict how genes will respond to various chemicals," said Zerhouni. "The future of the NTP is very bright."

Other speakers, including Dr. Bernard Goldstein, a dean at the University of Pittsburgh, praised the work of the NTP, especially its role in prevention. "There is no way we can even put a number on how many lives the NTP has saved since its inception in 1978." He cited the Ames test, which is widely used to detect possible chemical mutagens, as a life-saving device that also exemplifies how NTP uses alternatives to animal testing to conduct its studies.

"Reducing, refining and replacing animal testing with alternative methods," is a high priority for the NTP, said Dr. Chris Portier, NTP associate director, as he discussed the program's "Roadmap for the Future." The NTP Roadmap is the result of a year-long process involving input from leading researchers from many fields who worked together to develop a strategy that takes advantage of new technologies. In addition to developing improved testing methods for the more than 80,000 chemicals now available in commerce, NTP is a leader in examining safety issues related to herbal medicines and supplements, nanotechnology and cell phone radiofrequency transmissions. "These are emerging areas that the NTP is addressing."

"A Roadmap for the Future" can be found at http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/.

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