New algorithm allows for faster, animal-free chemical toxicity testing | 1/26/2016 | Staff (Posted by) Level 4
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The use of animals to test the toxicity of chemicals may one day become outdated thanks to a low-cost, high-speed algorithm developed by researchers at Rutgers and other universities.

Toxicity testing—determining the amount of exposure to a chemical that is unsafe for humans—is vital to the safety of millions of workers in various industries. But of the 85,000 compounds used in consumer products, the majority have not been comprehensively tested for safety. Animal testing, in addition to its ethical concerns, can be too costly and time consuming to meet this need, according to the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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"There is an urgent, worldwide need for an accurate, cost-effective and rapid way to test the toxicity of chemicals, in order to ensure the safety of the people who work with them and of the environments in which they are used," said lead researcher Daniel Russo, a doctoral candidate at the Rutgers University-Camden Center for Computational and Integrative Biology. "Animal testing alone cannot meet this need."

Previous efforts to solve this problem used computers to compare untested chemicals with structurally similar compounds whose toxicity is already known. But those methods were unable to assess structurally unique chemicals—and were confounded by the fact that some structurally similar chemicals have very different levels of toxicity.

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The Rutgers-led group overcame these challenges by developing a first-of-its-kind algorithm that automatically extracts data from PubChem, a National Institutes of Health database of information on millions of chemicals. The algorithm compares chemical fragments from tested compounds with those of untested compounds, and uses multiple mathematical methods to evaluate their similarities and differences in...
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