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EPA Awards Vanderbilt University over $790,000 to Develop New Approaches for Evaluating Chemical Toxicokinetics

08/04/2020
Contact Information: 
Jason McDonald (region4press@epa.gov)
404-562-9203

ATLANTA (August 4, 2020) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Vanderbilt University will receive $790,352 of the $3,980,782 in total funding being awarded to five academic research teams to develop New Approach Methods (NAMs) for evaluating chemical toxicokinetics, an important aspect of evaluating the impacts of chemicals on human health and the environment. Compared to traditional animal testing, NAMs allow researchers to better predict potential hazards for risk assessment purposes without the use of traditional methods that rely on animal testing.

“These awards will be used to develop tools that help industry and EPA evaluate the safety of chemicals more quickly and cheaply,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “This research will be another step toward EPA’s goals of more widespread application of NAMs reduced animal testing.”

Each research team is receiving a grant of up to $800,000 through EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program. Their projects will address gaps in ways to obtain data for informing chemical toxicokinetics and exposure-related factors not currently considered. Toxicokinetics are an important component of understanding how chemicals can impact health by looking at chemical concentrations that cause changes at the cellular or molecular level. New methods, tools, and approaches can improve our ability to predict a chemical’s health impacts and reduce uncertainty as the science moves from laboratory approaches to real world scenarios.

“This award advances the science of identifying the impact chemicals in the environment have on the human body,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. “EPA is proud to partner with Vanderbilt on this very innovative research effort that will have significant human health and environmental benefits.”  

Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Integrative Biosystem Research and Education is investigating ways to reduce the need for animal testing using organotypic culture models and organ-on-chip devices. The funds will be used towards establishing methods, measurements and models for the toxicokinetics of PDMS-based organ-on-chip devices. These new approach methodologies place multiple human cell types in appropriate 3D geometries under continuous microfluidic perfusion to better approximate in vivo cellular microenvironments – and thus yield more predictive responses to potential toxicants.

As organ-on-a-chip devices become better and better at reproducing in-vivo-like responses to chemical exposures, we need to develop measurement methods and computational models that will let us accurately extrapolate from a chemical concentration going into the device to the actual dose reaching the cells cultured within,” said Shane Hutson, Ph.D., Professor and Chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. Given these devices’ use of permeable, biocompatible materials and microfluidic channels, the relationship between the two may be quite complex.

The five recipients include:

  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., to create an integrated blood brain barrier computer model to help determine if a chemical may cause neurotoxicity.
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, to help integrate different types of chemical safety testing for more robust results.
  • University of Nevada, Reno, Nev., to develop better estimations of the bioavailability of chemicals in order to assess the significance of public exposure. 
  • Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., to work on methods to refine organ-on-chip devices for chemical testing.
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Mass., to determine how zebrafish metabolism can be better correlated to the human metabolism to improve models for chemical toxicity testing

For more information on EPA’s STAR recipients: https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/recipients.display/rfa_id/653/records_per_page/ALL

The research from these grants provide critical science to advance understanding of the impacts of chemicals on human health and the environment.

For more information on EPA’s safer chemical research, visit: https://www.epa.gov/chemical-research

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