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Agilent and Johns Hopkins to Research Toxicity Pathways for Embryonic Brain Development Using Metabolomics


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Agilent Technologies Inc. and the Agilent Foundation announced that Dr. Thomas Hartung has received an Agilent Thought Leader Award in support of his research for the use of toxicity pathways to predict developmental neurotoxicity. This work could help identify possible contributions of chemicals to disorders such as autism and attention hyperactivity disorders. Dr. Hartung recently was named a leading toxicologist by the science journal Nature.

The award includes Agilent Foundation funding for research and a company donation of instruments worth more than $500,000 to the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Hartung, director of CAAT, will focus his research on the identification of novel toxicity pathways by combining two promising cell culture models with emerging metabolomics technology.

“This award makes cutting edge technology available for a project in the core of implementing the vision of a new regulatory toxicology,” says Hartung. “Problems of the 21st century can only be solved with 21st century technologies.”

“The information we need to fully understand the toxic effects of chemicals on humans cannot be obtained using traditional animal models. We are not 70-kilogram rats,” adds Hartung.

The identified pathways will be annotated in a public database the scientific community can use for further mechanistic studies. This will be of particular benefit to the pharmaceutical and chemical industry to assist with identifying how drug compounds and chemicals interact with human biochemical pathways. In the case of drug development, this information will allow for better toxicological assessment of promising drug lead compounds at early preclinical stages, reducing costs and time.

The field of toxicology is undergoing rapid change prompted by the 2007 National Research Council’s report, ‘Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy.’ The report aims to move toxicity testing to work with human cells and computer modeling instead of animal tests to improve the prediction of human adverse effects. This is considered the way forward to assess the tens of thousands of yet untested chemicals in the environment and consumer products. The study supported with the award is piloting this approach.

“The research will have great impact on the field of toxicology by performing a proof of principle study for the use of toxicity pathways to predict developmental neurotoxicity,” said Mark Vossenaar, senior director of strategic marketing for Agilent’s Life Sciences Group. “Working closely with one of the leading research institutions in the world, we believe the results will demonstrate the feasibility of LC/MS based metabolomics in toxicity studies.”

Agilent’s new Thought Leader Program promotes fundamental advances in the life sciences by contributing financial support, products and/or expertise to the research of influential thought leaders.
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