Ushering in the new toxicology: toxicogenomics and the public interest.


New scientific tools spawned by the genomics revolution promise to improve our ability to identify causative factors in human diseases. But as these new tools elucidate the complex interactions between chemical toxins and biologic systems, the strain on traditional ways of understanding toxic effects grows. Despite major advances in the science and technology of these new toxicogenomics tools, scientific and political complexities threaten to delay the use of toxicogenomics to further the public interest or--worse--to advance its use initially to weaken the regulation and safety of widely used chemicals. To gain further insight into the scientific and political landscape of the new toxicology, we interviewed 27 experts from a variety of disciplines and sectors. Interviewees expressed widespread agreement that the new toxicology promises a significant increase in the amount of information available on toxic effects of chemicals. But the interviews show that the promise of the new toxicology will be realized only if technical and political obstacles can be overcome. Although scientific rigor is necessary for the new toxicology to move forward, the scientific and public-interest communities must ensure that inappropriate definitions of rigor, as well as proprietary interests, do not create unnecessary barriers to more effective public health protection.

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