EU Science Hub

Membrane transporter data to support kinetically-informed chemical risk assessment using non-animal methods: Scientific and regulatory perspectives

Abstract: 
Humans are continuously exposed to low levels of thousands of industrial chemicals, most of which are poorly characterised in terms of their potential toxicity. The new paradigm in chemical risk assessment (CRA) aims to rely on animal-free testing, with kinetics being a key determinant of toxicity when moving from traditional animal studies to integrated in vitro-in silico approaches. In a kinetically informed CRA, membrane transporters, which have been intensively studied during drug development, are an essential piece of information. However, how existing knowledge on transporters gained in the drug field can be applied to CRA is not yet fully understood. This review outlines the opportunities, challenges and existing tools for investigating chemical-transporter interactions in kinetically informed CRA without animal studies. Various environmental chemicals acting as substrates, inhibitors or modulators of transporter activity or expression have been shown to impact TK, just as drugs do. However, because pollutant concentrations are often lower in humans than drugs and because exposure levels and internal chemical doses are not usually known in contrast to drugs, new approaches are required to translate transporter data and reasoning from the drug sector to CRA. Here, the generation of in vitro chemical-transporter interaction data and the development of transporter databases and classification systems trained on chemical datasets (and not only drugs) are proposed. Furtheremore, improving the use of human biomonitoring data to evaluate the in vitro-in silico transporter-related predicted values and developing means to assess uncertainties could also lead to increase confidence of scientists and regulators in animal-free CRA. Finally, a systematic characterisation of the transportome (quantitative monitoring of transporter abundance, activity and maintenance over time) would reinforce confidence in the use of experimental transporter/barrier systems as well as in established cell-based toxicological assays currently used for CRA.