Hazardous chemicals crossing borders

Anyone who has stood in line to have their bags, boots and body checked before getting on an aeroplane will know that international borders are well protected. After all, that young mother with her squealing baby could so easily be carrying more than the requisite quantity of fluid in a plastic bottle in her hand luggage. The old gentleman with the walking frame? Who’s to say he hasn’t packed it with old-school sticks of dynamite ready to hijack an autumnal tourist flight packed with mini-breakers. That surly teenager’s personal music player with its incessant “tss, tss, tss” and fragile glass touch screen? It could so easily be converted into a lethal weapon with a sharp blow to the arm of the aircraft seat releasing a shard of sharp glass with which to threaten the crew while they point to the exits and mime putting on an oxygen mask in case of the aircraft losing cabin pressure…

Biological mechanisms discovery by globally-distributed research force

Not every scientist has the comfort of a well-equipped lab. However, newly available open platforms for biomedical in silico discovery could soon spark the brains of millions of researchers forming a geographically-distributed work force across the globe. This no longer requires working in a high-tech lab to contribute to the discovery of new mechanisms in health and diseases. Meanwhile, new opportunities for trainees, scientists and patients to practice annotation of genetic databases, could push the boundaries of open science towards countries where it has not yet been possible to work on such projects. In the second part of a two-part series, Barend Mons from the Leiden University Medical Centre, The Netherlands, explains how it could work in practice, and how close we are to realising this initiative.

A goldmine to partly replace animal testing

Public databases of the toxic effects of chemicals that have been registered under the REACH directive have been sitting idle for too long. In an opinion piece, Thomas Hartung explains how the development of software by his team at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, at Johns Hopkins University, USA, helps make sense of the large volume of chemical database content. Now that they made such data machine readable, expectations are that it will soon be possible to provide open access to such public database. Ultimately, this could substantially decrease the number of animal tests. Indeed, the database makes it possible to do so-called read-across, allowing to infer toxicity of heaps of untested chemicals from existing data on chemicals of similar structure, which have already been tested.

Nerves of steel: carte blanche to Europe’s atmospheric polluters

In this investigative piece of pan-European journalism, EuroScientist focuses on a case study showing how an evidence-based approach could inform policies that are better suited to protect EU citizens. In this article, we focus on the case of the steel industry. It appears to have managed to render ineffective in protecting the health of EU citizens a 2010 Directive regulating industrial emissions, due to come into force in 2016. The piece reveals how decision-making mechanisms have ultimately been dampened down by many lobbying and political compromises. As a result, industry has been left to decide which tests are to be implemented to control harmful emissions, without the obligation of implementing what available evidence considers the most effective technology.

Evidence-based safety science is nigh

To date, most toxicology tests have not been validated but they are still mandated by regulatory agencies. The question is to find suitable ways of modernising toxicology testing in the 21st century in a structured, consistent, transparent way. In this article, Thomas Hartung, Founder Evidence-Based Toxicology Collaboration (EBTC), at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and colleagues, examine what remains to be done to address the mounting pressure exerted on industries and food and drug regulators worldwide to bring their decision-making process up-to-date with modern science. This calls for the use of a rigorous appraisal of the value of past studies under the umbrella of what has been dubbed evidence-based medicine (EBM), to be adapted in toxicology, to guarantee the safety of drug and consumer products.