A scientific colloquium “Epigenetics and risk assessment: Where do we stand?“, convened by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), was held on June 14-15, 2016 in Valencia, Spain (FPF reported).

At the opening plenary, several presentations on recent developments in epigenetics research, and the significance of epigenome alterations for toxicology and risk assessment, were given by leading scientists in the field.

Hans Verhagen from the Risk Assessment and Scientific Assistance Department of EFSA introduced the main components of EFSA’s strategy 2020 (FPF reported).

Robert Feil of the Univeristy of Montpellier, France, talked about epigenetic regulation of human health and disease, focusing on nutritional and environmental effects.

Jos Kleinjans of Maastricht University, the Netherlands, presented research on epigenetic actions of chemicals, investigated in primary hepatocytes.

Daniel Doerge from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussed the role of epigenetics in risk assessment of furan in food.

Heiner Niemann from the German Institute of Farm Animal Genetics gave an overview of epigenetic aspects to be considered in risk assessment for livestock.

Finally, Kevin Chipman from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, reviewed the impact of epigenetics in environmental risk assessment.

During discussion sessions, invited experts from academia, industry, non-governmental organizations, and regulatory bodies focused on the integration of epigenetic effects into chemical risk assessment for human health, farmed animals, and the environment.

It was acknowledged that epigenetic actions of chemicals may potentially play a role in several adverse outcomes, including many non-communicable diseases. However, at present the experimental evidence was still judged to be insufficient to confirm the causative relationship between epigenome alterations induced by chemicals and specific adverse outcomes. More research was demanded by the participants in order to understand the underlying mechanisms and to investigate the depth and breadth of chemical effects on the epigenome. Improved mechanistic knowledge may help design reliable in vitro and in vivo assays for effects on epigenome; when properly validated, these assays may then be used for regulatory purposes.

At the closing plenary, the main outcomes from the four discussion groups were presented by the chairs, and the overall rapporteur of the colloquium, Sandra Ceccatelli of the Karolinska Institute, Sweden, summarized the main conclusions. “We have identified what we do know and what we don’t know. And that is a big achievement,” Ceccatelli said.  She further emphasized that the identified knowledge gaps are best approached by transdisciplinary collaboration, in particular with stronger incorporation of scientific insights generated by epigenetics research in medicine.

Presentations and supporting materials can be found at EFSA’s epigenetics colloquium page; an official report will be published later this year.

Read more

EFSA (2016). “EFSA scientific colloquium N°22 ‘Epigenetics and risk assessment: Where do we stand?’

Emma Davies (June 23, 2016). “Epigenetics not yet ready for risk assessment.Chemical Watch