EPA Grants $3 Million for Chemical Toxicity Research

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded nearly $3 million to better understand how the liver responds to environmental toxicants. Four academic institutions, including Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, will develop ways to enhance what society knows about environmental contaminants and the liver, the body’s waste treatment organ.

“The liver plays a front line role in removing chemicals after they enter the human body, which means the liver faces harmful effects if the chemical is toxic,” says Dr. Robert Kavlock, director of EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology. “Evaluating the risk of liver toxicity due to these chemicals is critical for protecting human health.”

EPA met with the Hamner Institute in North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Indiana University, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at its Research Triangle Park campus in North Carolina on June 22 to discuss this project. EPA scientists will work closely with these four institutions to research how chemicals interact with cells as they enter the liver.

EPA’s Virtual Liver, or v-Liver, model is a chemical toxicity model. The v-Liver model estimates the potential for chemicals to cause chronic diseases, such as cancer, using innovative computer science and other technologies. Results from the universities’ research will provide the v-Liver model with new data and tools to better understand how chemicals disrupt cells in the liver, and how this leads to disease.The v-Liver uses chemical data from rapid tests and published literature to develop a state-of-the-art computer model that can predict the potential toxicity of chemicals in a much more efficient and effective way than current laboratory-based animal models.

There are thousands of chemicals in use and hundreds more introduced every year. Traditional chemical toxicity tests using animals are expensive and time consuming. Once complete, the v-Liver model will help EPA prioritize which chemicals need more extensive toxicity assessments and simulate the biological response of the liver to chemical exposure.

EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program funds research grants in numerous environmental science and engineering disciplines through a competitive solicitation process and independent peer review. The STAR program engages the nation’s best scientists and engineers in targeted research that complements EPA’s own outstanding research program.