In DepthToxicology

A crystal ball for chemical safety

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 651
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6274.651

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Every year, chemists invent thousands of new chemicals, and many ultimately find their way into global use. Predicting which ones will pose health or environmental hazards, however, has proven difficult. This week, a group of researchers unveiled a tool that could help streamline the process: a vast database of safety information that will allow users to compare new chemicals to existing compounds with similar structures, and flag potential risks. "You could imagine that, before even synthesizing [a chemical], a chemist puts the structure into the [tool] to ask if it's safe," says toxicologist Thomas Hartung of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who led the effort. To create the screening tool, the researchers dug deep into a "gold mine" of data on 9800 compounds collected by the European Chemicals Agency. But experts caution that structural similarities, although promising, are just one piece of the puzzle in assessing a compound's safety.