Session 7: Knowledge Integration in Modern Toxicology

Knowledge Integration in Modern Toxicology

Prof. Dr. Michael Schwarz


Department of Toxicology, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany


Head of Department


To make a good decision we need to bring both expertise and relevant information together to form the basis for a structured well-informed discussion leading to best judgement based on available evidence and opinions formed on it.

Such knowledge integration is required in toxicology and safety assessment based on scientific knowledge generated by a growing number of “alternative” testing research methods used in addition to the classical rodent bioassay.

Evidence is generated from in vitro experimental systems or in silico methods, biology and/or chemistry, science and engineering, either human health or environment-oriented, and requires both effective organization of knowledge and communications to reach common understandings. The requirements, context and format for applications may vary e.g., when aiming to answer a very basic scientific question, or carrying out a risk assessment on a product, or performing a regulatory decision.

All applications, however, require a sound reproducible scientific basis and the use of good practices, be it when performing experiments, organizing the resulting data and describing cellular or organism responses based on a common ontology and knowledge framework. There is a growing opportunity to develop knowledge integration based on combining emerging concepts and frameworks e.g., OpenTox for data integration and resource interoperability, adverse outcome pathways for mapping data to events, Risk21 for a combined analysis of exposure and hazard, and weight of evidence and read across methods for combining evidence from chemical or biological mechanistic categories.

The field of toxicology is presently undergoing a dramatic change, primarily caused by novel high-content and other methods not available in the past. While the experimental animal in the conventional bioassay was essentially treated as a “black box”, we now start to try to understand the basic molecular events underlying a particular toxic effect, to then define safe exposure levels.

For this, much more than in the past, the interaction between researchers from different disciplines is required and community frameworks need to be established to bring different disciplines together for fruitful discussions.