UNC researchers collaborate with EPA CompTox Program

Dr. Ivan Rusyn

Dr. Ivan Rusyn
Dr. Fred Wright

Dr. Fred Wright

In May 2012, UNC SRP Deputy Director Ivan Rusyn, MD, PhD and Biostatistics Core Leader Fred Wright, PhD presented a workshop in California to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) staff , providing introductions to two software tools aimed at facilitating the work of public health officials charged with assessing the human health risks of environmental chemicals.

 
ToxPi, initially developed by researchers at EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology, is a graphical interface to display toxicity indexes and modes-of-action for a large number of chemicals in a visually appealing display. Rusyn, Wright and their groups have extended the original ToxPi interface into a standalone and web-based tools, increasing its availability to users such as regulators and scientists who require fast and transparent rankings of toxicity, as well as prioritization for further testing.DRPathway, developed at UNC-Chapel Hill by Wright’s group, is a tool for analyzing gene expression toxicity dose-response experiments to identify genetic pathways underlying the toxicity response to a specific chemical. Specific users will include researchers trying to better understand how genetic changes to an organism result from exposure to a specific chemical, including responses at low levels of exposure. Wright says that demonstrations of the software, which is near release, are getting a highly positive reception. “Even scientists who may not use the tool directly recognize the value of a transparent tool to quantify, describe, and output the gene expression response at the pathway level. We expect it’ll be very popular.”

These tools were developed with support from the EPA, which recently awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant for research conducted by the Carolina Center for Computational Toxicology. The Center’s mission is to devise novel experimental approaches and computational tools and methods that will prove beneficial to the EPA’s research and regulatory objectives. Rusyn, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health will serve as principal investigator for the project, “Carolina Center for Computational Toxicology: Assays, models and tools for NextGen safety assessments.”

Wright, professor of biostatistics at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Alexander Tropsha, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, are project co-investigators.

The award will continue to advance the field of computational toxicology through collaborative efforts and the development of new methods and tools. Since 2006, EPA/NCER has awarded three other such grants to these UNC investigators – a fact, Rusyn said, that confirms the unique strength of this research area at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“This award is one indication that the Center has been successful in devising novel computational tools, methods and information, all of which are needed by regulatory agencies – and the greater environmental health sciences community – for protecting the environment and human health,” said Rusyn.