New Robot Can Speed Toxics Evaluations, End Animal Testing

lab testing beakers photo

Photo by ILRI via Flickr CC

Tox21 is a new robot that could change the way we evaluate toxicity in chemicals, radically speeding up the process and perhaps even end animal testing. Tox21 is a collaborative effort among the EPA, National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences/National Toxicology Program, National Institutes of Health/National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC) and the Food and Drug Administration. The creators state that this robot is set to revolutionize how chemical testing is done, speeding it up from about two dozen assessments a year, to thousands.

According to the New York Times, about 80,000 chemicals exist in our food and consumer products, with little to know knowledge about what impact those chemicals have on health and the environment. The process for testing them to get sufficient data is arduous and slow. But after six years of development, Tox21 is ready to be tested.

"The effort's first phase -- testing about 300 chemicals -- began in 2008. The second, or the "industrial phase," launched recently and will test about 10,000 chemicals comparing data it collects to existing toxicity information as a test of the robot's accuracy. The conclusion of the project is still years away, but Robert Kavlock, director of EPA's National Center for Computational Toxicology, said data being gathered in the early going will help EPA and other agencies figure out which chemicals need additional testing," reports the New York Times.

This could be a major boon for those of us who are concerned about the lack of knowledge surrounding what goes into the food and products we bring into our homes.

Equally, it could be excellent news for those people who want to see an end to animal testing.

"We want to make better predictions of human toxicity and we also want to use fewer animals in our clinical studies," David Jacobson-Kram, FDA's associate director for pharmacology and toxicology, told the NY Times.

It will be years before Tox21 is ready to take the stage and lead the way to fast, accurate chemical testing, and years before labs are emptied of test animals. Until then, it is best to be as educated as possible about what you purchase, and if you don't know what an ingredient is, don't buy it. Resources like GoodGuide can also fill you in on the health and safety of products while you're out shopping.

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