Chemists, biologists collaborate to design endocrine disrupter screening tool.


As part of an unprecedented collaboration in the US between environmental health scientists and synthetic chemists, a working meeting was held last week as part of an ongoing project to create a design protocol to screen new materials for endocrine disrupting activity. Hosted by the non-profit organisations, Advancing Green Chemistry and Environmental Health Sciences, the meeting brought together about two dozen leading researchers in fields that include molecular biology, endocrinology, genetics, and green chemistry to create a screening tool to be used as new chemicals are being synthesized with the goal of detecting potential biological activity before a new compound goes into commercial production.

While endocrine disruption has been recognised as a health hazard for more than two decades, no screening tool comparable to the one this group of scientists is developing currently exists. To be effective at detecting endocrine disrupting activity, an assay would have to take into account potential low dose and non-linear effects of chemicals and the many possible interactions such chemicals can have with genetic receptors. The goal of the project is to produce a suite of peer-reviewed assays for synthetic chemists, the great majority of whom are not trained in biology, endocrinology or toxicology. The protocol is being designed for use in both commercial and academic laboratories.

“In the US, there has been a 15-plus year effort underway at the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which has still not come out with a comprehensive testing protocol for endocrine disruption,” said Karen Peabody O’Brien, executive director of Advancing Green Chemistry. “Rather than wait for regulation of what is already in use, this group is putting together a design tool for chemists who are trying to create the next generation of safer materials or ‘greener’ chemicals. We are not trying to regulate industry but give chemists the means to find out well in advance whether they are making something that, to the best of our knowledge, is not biologically active,” explained Dr O’Brien.

She stressed that this is the first toxicological screening tool to be developed by such a cross-disciplinary team of scientists and that the intent is to provide chemists with a way to establish confidence that new materials – particularly alternatives to existing problematic chemicals – are safe.