On May 7, 2020, the Food Packaging Forum (FPF) held a webinar on research into key characteristics (KCs) that can be useful for identifying hazardous chemicals. In this talk, guest speaker Martyn Smith from the University of California, Berkeley presents on recent research carried out by a working group of 90 scientists focused on understanding KCs of carcinogens, male and female reproductive toxicants, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). He presents a set of key peer-reviewed publications (also linked below) describing these KCs identified as well as their application.

With such a large number of chemicals on the market, KCs are now being seen as a standardized way to evaluate chemicals efficiently for hazards and to help prioritize further assessments. In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) first convened a group of scientific experts with the aim to identify 10 KCs for carcinogens. Further work later went into developing a set of KCs for reproductive toxicants and EDCs. KCs common across the different toxicants often include causing damage to DNA (genotoxicity), alterations in gene expression (epigenetic alterations), alteration in hormone levels and the functioning of their receptors, oxidative stress, and inflammation.

In his presentation, Smith explains that KCs help to support a knowledge-based, objective approach to evaluate mechanistic data for use in hazard evaluations, which is different from but also complementary to approaches focused on identifying a mode of action (MoA) and adverse outcome pathway (AOP). In addition to the toxicants presented here, KCs for neurotoxicants, cardiotoxicants, and immunotoxicants are also being developed. A next step in this field is recognized as being the need to develop a comprehensive set of biomarkers and assays that can be used to measure the KCs in chemicals being evaluated.

Smith is a professor of toxicology within the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley where he also leads the Superfund Research Program.


Read More

Ashley Ahearn (July 22, 2019). “Key Characteristics: A New Approach to Identifying Potential Toxicants, with Martyn Smith.” Environmental Health Perspectives


References on KCs of Carcinogens

Smith, M. et al. (June 2016). “Key Characteristics of Carcinogens as a Basis for Organizing Data on Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis.” Environmental Health Perspectives

Potera, C. et al. (June 2016). “Making Sense of Carcinogens: A New Method for Navigating Mechanistic Data.” Environmental Health Perspectives

Guyton, K Z. et al. (December 2018). “Key Characteristics Approach to Carcinogenic Hazard Identification.” Chem. Res. Toxicol.

Smith, M. et al. (March 2020). “The Key Characteristics of Carcinogens: Relationship to the Hallmarks of Cancer, Relevant Biomarkers, and Assays to Measure Them.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention


References on KCs of Reproductive Toxicants and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Arzuaga, X. et al. (June 2019). “Proposed Key Characteristics of Male Reproductive Toxicants as an Approach for Organizing and Evaluating Mechanistic Evidence in Human Health Hazard Assessments.” Environmental Health Perspectives

Luderer, U. et al. (July 2019). “Proposed Key Characteristics of Female Reproductive Toxicants as an Approach for Organizing and Evaluating Mechanistic Data in Hazard Assessment.” Environmental Health Perspectives

Nicole, W. et al. (March 2020). “Potential Male and Female Reproductive Toxicants: Applying the Key Characteristics Approach.” Environmental Health Perspectives

La Merrill et al. (November 2019). “Consensus on the key characteristics of endocrine-disrupting chemicals as a basis for hazard identification.” Nature Reviews Endocrinology


Other Resources

National Academies Press (2017). “Using 21st Century Science to Improve Risk-Related Evaluations.”


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