by Dr. Jana Olson | 22 October 2019

This is the first article in a 2-part series. Go to the second post for more info on predicting chemical effects or battling bias in scientific research at Eurotox.

The cool Helsinki mornings, the clean architecture, and the orderly bike and pedestrian paths around Finlandia Hall, the conference venue, were an excellent backdrop for this year’s Congress of the European Societies of Toxicology – Eurotox for short. This federation includes more than 40 European societies of toxicology, with approximately 1,500 participants at this year’s conference, representing 5 times that number of scientists across Europe.

 
Eurotox 2019 live performance

The opening ceremony of Eurotox 2019 included a kantele performance by Ida Elina, a Finnish singer and kantele player.

 

Combining our efforts to solve grand challenges

Eurotox slid easily into first place among the coolest conferences I’ve ever been to when the opening ceremony Sunday night included a 3-song musical and visual performance by Ida Elina, a Finnish Kantele Musician. Nearly every session I attended began with a solid overview, so my lack of background in toxicology wasn’t an issue. The plenary speaker Professor Markku Kulmala of the University of Helsinki began his presentation broadly, describing climate change as a grand challenge that everyone – not just toxicologists – needed to work together and organize to be able to beat.

Predictions based on available data

The first full day of Eurotox started on Monday with a Helsinki local presenting. The plenary speaker, Harri Alenius, Professor in Molecular Toxicology at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, urged researchers to move from descriptive toxicology to predictive toxicology using in vitro methods. He explained that such a move is difficult considering the low complexity of in vitro cell models, but the field is already one step in the right direction with organs on a chip and other advanced in vitro models for complex systems. Considering that there are many kinds of toxicology data already available from other researchers, it is in our interest to take advantage of it.

His presentation, as well as many throughout the day, further emphasized Dr. Kulmala’s point that researchers must combine their efforts, their resources, and essentially their results. Toxicology is a complex field. It builds on the already complex field of biology, and further complicates it by testing what happens when you add something new to the system. Working together in science is like working together on the same puzzle: we work separately on our own sections, but the big picture comes together faster when we fit our respective sections together.

LaChaine finger sculpture Helsinki

Everyone lend a hand... or at least a finger. This statue adorns Helsinki city Hall where a Monday night reception took place at the invitation of the City of Helsinki.

How to work together in the complex field of toxicology

One effective way to combine the results of multiple studies is to perform a meta-analysis using a statistical approach. Special attention must be paid to the methods and limitations of the studies, and each study needs to clearly report measurement values and the error of those measurements, to be sure that the different data sets can indeed be combined in a meaningful way.

Literature reviews are another way to combine research. In fact, governments and expert organizations are increasingly under pressure to perform systematic literature reviews in order to summarize the totality of evidence on various potentially toxic substances. If you think about it, it makes sense that we should have a clear and accurate understanding of the state of the research on toxicity data. After all, it’s public health that is at stake.

Standardized methods make it easier to work together

One aspect of toxicology research that would make it easier to combine data and improve applicability from one study to another is for researchers to develop, publish, and use standardized methods and data analysis procedures. It’s also important to use appropriate methods and to clearly describe them so that other researchers understand the study and its limitations.

 

 
Stephanie Boue Eurotox 2019

Dr. Stéphanie Boué, presenting her poster at Eurotox 2019.

 

Dr. Stéphanie Boué, Manager Scientific Transparency and Verification of PMI, presented her work, where we compare three studies, one from British American Tobacco (BAT), one from Japan Tobacco Incorporated (JTI), and one of our own studies describing aerosol chemistry data, standard toxicology assays, and in vivo tests. All three studies focus on smoke-free products developed by the companies compared to cigarette smoke, and information on those studies is collated on INTERVALS.Science.

According to Stéphanie, one key conclusion of this work was that “Comparing across studies on different products can be very interesting, but it takes a lot of work to compare studies that have been done completely differently. Meta-studies like this would really benefit from data that is gathered according to standardized protocols to make it easier to compare results.”

 

Keep reading to learn about predicting chemical effects and combating bias in science as discussed at Eurotox day 2 and 3.

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