Initiative to improve the standardisation of metabolomics in assessing safety of chemicals

Professor Mark Viant

The European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals (ECETOC) has announced the launch of a new initiative which will accelerate the use of metabolomics technology to improve safety assessment of chemicals. Metabolomics is the study of the myriad of small molecules in biochemical pathways which sustain life, by generating energy, or building larger molecules such as DNA.

This technology has the potential to transform chemical risk assessment by providing a deeper view of the molecular events underpinning toxicity than is currently possible. However, because it is so new, scientists do not yet have standard procedures for applying metabolomics or reporting its findings, both of which are needed for chemical risk assessment.

The MEtabolomics standaRds Initiative in Toxicology (MERIT) brings together a team of international experts to address this problem by defining best practices and minimum reporting requirements when metabolomics is used in regulatory toxicology. It comprises partners from industry, government agencies, regulators and academia, from across Europe and the USA, including the US EPA, US FDA, EFSA, UK HSL, BASF HE, Syngenta, Unilever, Imperial College London, University of Birmingham, VU University Amsterdam and the Metabolomics Society Data Standards Task Group.

Alan Poole, Secretary General of ECETOC explains that “Omics has enjoyed a great deal of success in research. Nevertheless, the use of omics data in regulatory assessment has been hindered by the different approaches to the acquisition and processing of the data which can lead to different outcomes, even from identical studies. By focusing on gene expression and metabolic phenotyping, we can gather significant complementary information on regulatory processes and downstream function – both critical to understanding mechanisms of toxicity”.

Professor Mark Viant, Professor of Metabolomics in the School of Biosciences and co-chair of the new group states “We need to address all the roadblocks to translating this highly effective technology of metabolomics into mechanism-based chemical safety science”. Dr Tim Ebbels, Reader in Computational Bioinformatics at Imperical College and also co-chair, added “The MERIT project is a critical step towards that goal”.

For further details, or to express your interest in commenting upon the best practices and reporting requirements, please contact Dr Tim Ebbels (t.ebbels@imperial.ac.uk) or Professor Mark Viant (m.viant@bham.ac.uk).

Find out more about the initiative on the ECETOC website

ECETOC is an Industry-funded, not-for-profit, non-political science based organization with access to chemical industry’s scientific experience and expertise focusing solely on the science of chemical risk assessment for regulatory purposes. ECETOC provides a scientific forum for expert collaboration from world-wide industry, academia and regulatory bodies to develop Tools, Guidance, State of Science on how emerging science builds on existing risk assessment frameworks. It does this through Task Forces, Expert Meetings and Workshops.