Reif Lab

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Research Vignettes

Statistical Methods Development & Visual Analytics

[Vignette: Reif et al (2010) Environmental Health Perspectives]

The prioritization of chemicals for toxicity testing is a primary goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ToxCast™ program. Phase I of ToxCast used a battery of 467 in vitro, high-throughput screening assays to assess 309 environmental chemicals. One important mode of action leading to toxicity is endocrine disruption, and the U.S. EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) has been charged with screening pesticide chemicals and environmental contaminants for their potential to affect the endocrine systems of humans and wildlife. The goal of this study was to develop a flexible method to facilitate the rational prioritization of chemicals for further evaluation and demonstrate its application as a candidate decision-support tool for EDSP. Focusing on estrogen, androgen, and thyroid pathways, we defined putative endocrine profiles and derived a relative rank or score for the entire ToxCast library of 309 unique chemicals. Effects on other nuclear receptors and xenobiotic metabolizing enzymes were also considered, as were pertinent chemical descriptors and pathways relevant to endocrine-mediated signaling. Combining multiple data sources into an overall, weight-of-evidence Toxicological Priority Index (ToxPi) score for prioritizing further chemical testing resulted in more robust conclusions than any single data source taken alone. Incorporating data from in vitro assays, chemical descriptors, and biological pathways in this prioritization schema provided a flexible, comprehensive visualization and ranking of each chemical's potential endocrine activity. Importantly, ToxPi profiles provide a transparent visualization of the relative contribution of all information sources to an overall priority ranking. The method developed here is readily adaptable to diverse chemical prioritization tasks. 

High-Throughput Screening (HTS) of Environmental Chemicals

[Vignette: Truong et al (2014) Toxicological Sciences]

There are tens of thousands of man-made chemicals in the environment; the inherent safety of most of these chemicals is not known. Relevant biological platforms and new computational tools are needed to prioritize testing of chemicals with limited human health hazard information. We describe an experimental design for high-throughput characterization of multidimensional in vivo effects with the power to evaluate trends relating to commonly cited chemical predictors. We evaluated all 1060 unique U.S. EPA ToxCast phase 1 and 2 compounds using the embryonic zebrafish and found that 487 induced significant adverse biological responses. The utilization of 18 simultaneously measured endpoints means that the entire system serves as a robust biological sensor for chemical hazard. The experimental design enabled us to describe global patterns of variation across tested compounds, evaluate the concordance of the available in vitro and in vivo phase 1 data with this study, highlight specific mechanisms/value-added/novel biology related to notochord development, and demonstrate that the developmental zebrafish detects adverse responses that would be missed by less comprehensive testing strategies. 


[Vignette: Reif et al (2013) Bioinformatics]

Scientists and regulators are often faced with complex decisions, where use of scarce resources must be prioritized using collections of diverse information. The Toxicological Prioritization Index (ToxPi™) was developed to enable integration of multiple sources of evidence on exposure and/or safety, transformed into transparent visual rankings to facilitate decision making. The rankings and associated graphical profiles can be used to prioritize resources in various decision contexts, such as testing chemical toxicity or assessing similarity of predicted compound bioactivity profiles. The amount and types of information available to decision makers are increasing exponentially, while the complex decisions must rely on specialized domain knowledge across multiple criteria of varying importance. Thus, the ToxPi bridges a gap, combining rigorous aggregation of evidence with ease of communication to stakeholders. An interactive ToxPi graphical user interface (GUI) application has been implemented to allow straightforward decision support across a variety of decision-making contexts in environmental health. The GUI allows users to easily import and recombine data, then analyze, visualize, highlight, export and communicate ToxPi results. It also provides a statistical metric of stability for both individual ToxPi scores and relative prioritized ranks. The ToxPi GUI application, complete user manual and example data files are freely available from or