Screening for Toxins at Lightspeed

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We know a lot about how people can reduce their risk of cancer with diet and other lifestyle choices, but the role of environmental toxins in cancer risk is still an area of concern. (Last week, the EPA released a major report on breast cancer’s links to environmental links.)

In a collaborative effort between the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration, the NIH has unveiled a new tool for identifying possible toxins: a robot.

Although he doesn’t have quite the flair of C-3PO of Star Wars fame, the new robot—Tox21—is playing in a much more important role.

According to the NIH press release, Tox21 is a high-speed robotic screener that can quickly test thousand of chemicals for potential toxicity.  It would take a human 12 years to accomplish what Tox21 can do in just 3 days!

The US Environmental Protection Agency has registered more than 80,000 chemicals for use in consumer products such as cosmetics, household cleansers, and drugs. Another 2,000 new ones are introduced each year—a formidable number to screen for toxicity.

Currently, screening is a long process that relies on data from animal models that must be extrapolated to humans.  The robotic system utilizes advanced scientific techniques that will enable the EPA to achieve their goal of minimizing animal testing.

This means faster, more accurate results and better protection against possible cancer-causing chemicals.

Screening for environmental toxins is important, and AICR/WCRF’s expert report cited the need for more and better research on potential links between environmental chemicals and cancer. Yet what research clearly shows is that people can prevent about one-third of the most common cancers through diet and other lifestyle choices.


    Author: Teresa

    Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, RDN, is a nutrition and health communications consultant with a long-time interest in the role of plant-based diets and cancer prevention. Her work draws on elements of nutritional biochemistry, phytochemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology.

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