ECETOC and EEMS hold Symposium on ‘Omics in systems biology

ECETOC and EEMS (European Environmental Mutagen Society) have jointly organised a symposium entitled “Use of “omics to elucidate mechanism of action and integration of “omics in a systems biology concept”. The symposium was co-funded by CEFIC-LRI and held on 16 September 2010 as part of the annual meeting of EEMS in Oslo. The organisation of regular symposia has allowed ECETOC and EEMS to continue a successful relationship for more than 10 years. The papers of these symposia form critical state-of-the-science reviews; they have been published in the open literature.

This year’s symposium in Oslo consisted of the following topics and speakers: Welcome – Neil Carmichael, ECETOC; Liver toxicogenomics within the pharmaceutical industry: From in vivo, to slice, to permanent cell line – Willem Schoonen, MSD; Sources of variation in baseline gene expression levels from toxicogenomics study control animals – Chris Corton, US EPA; Metabolomics, a tool for early identification of toxicological effects and an opportunity for biologically based chemical grouping under REACH – Bennard van Ravenzwaay, BASF; Toxicogenomics for genotoxicity and carcinogenicity prediction: The role of microRNA – Joost van Delft, University of Maastricht; Prediction in the face of uncertainty: A Monte Carlo strategy for systems biology of cancer treatment – Christoph Wierling, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics; and Closing remarks – Bennard van Ravenzwaay, BASF. The whole session including debate after each presentation was attended by up to 200 persons. It was chaired by Jos Kleinjans, University of Maastricht and Gunnar Brunborg, Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The above-mentioned speakers are a selected group of scientists who had made similar presentations at the ECETOC Workshop on the “Use of “omics in (eco) toxicology: Case studies and risk assessment” held in Málaga in February 2010 (Workshop Report 19, available at The conclusions of the symposium in Oslo are fully in line with those made at the Málaga ECETOC Workshop. Both events built on an earlier ECETOC Workshop in 2007; “Application of “omic technologies in toxicology and ecotoxicology” (Workshop Report 11, available at

The conclusions of the recent Oslo symposium (based on the previous ECETOC Workshops) can be summarised as follows:

“Omics sciences are taking their place among other hazard and risk assessment tools and are particularly valuable for understanding modes of action.

“Omics sciences add value to risk assessment by improving mechanistic understanding and identifying modes of action. However, “Omics sciences at this time cannot be used for quantitative risk assessments – transcriptomics may be more sensitive then classical toxicology, whereas metabolomics appears to be equally sensitive. Alterations in individual parameters in “omics studies are unsuitable to derive NOAELs. “Omics NOAELs should be based only on specific patterns of change for potentially relevant biological effects, causally related to an adverse effect.

Specific patterns of change obtained in “omics studies are being developed and used for the early identification of toxicological modes of action in the screening for novel compounds.

These technologies can potentially serve as a tool for prioritisation of chemical testing and could provide a better (biology-based) rationale for chemical grouping under the REACH legislation.

Good quality study design and data are essential to improve the confidence level and increase the likelihood of regulatory acceptance.