A Better Test for Chemical Toxicity

Researchers from the University of Utah have developed a highly sensitive toxicity test that could serve as an alert system to possible toxicity in prescription drugs.

About one third of prescription drugs are withdrawn or have warnings added because of such problems. The test could help researchers discover toxicity early in the research process, before the drugs would go on the market.

Doing that would avoid any potential harm to consumers and could save pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars in research on drugs that would only prove unsuccessful.

Using a mouse model, the researchers ran their test on the antidepressant Paxil, which has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires a warning about use of Paxil during pregnancy.

They investigators found that the test was more sensitive in detecting toxicity but is not able to indicate why the toxicity exists.

University of Utah biology professor Wayne K. Potts, the study’s senior author, says that the test might prove even more important for pinpointing the toxic effects of chemicals used in agriculture; industrial pollutants and other manufactured chemicals.

“We don’t really have a sensitive, broad toxicity assessment system,” Potts says. “That’s why these things slip through the cracks and we often don’t discover harmful effects until after 10 or 20 years of epidemiology studies using the public as the experimental guinea pigs.”

The research was published in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology. 

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