Thyroid hormon molekyle

Using computers to detect more endocrine disrupting chemicals

Friday 29 Apr 16

Researchers at the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, are developing computer models to predict which of the many chemicals in our food, environment and consumer products can disrupt the thyroid hormones. These models can help minimize the need for laboratory animals and contribute to the development of safer drugs and chemicals. The project has been awarded a grant from Denmark’s 3R-Center, which aims to find alternatives to animal testing.

In everyday life we are constantly exposed to a myriad of natural and synthetic chemical substances e.g. through food, polluted air, cosmetics, clothing and electronic equipment. Some of these substances have endocrine disrupting effects.

Until now research has mainly focused on these chemicals’ effects on the sex hormones. However, attention is now also given to the harmful effect these substances may have on thyroid hormones, which are produced in the thyroid gland.

Thyroid hormones play an important role in a person’s metabolism and in early brain development. Even a moderate and short-term reduction of a pregnant woman’s hormone levels can negatively affect her baby’s brain and nervous system.

Better virtual screening of harmful effects

Researchers at the National Food Institute have developed advanced computer models to predict the harmful effects of chemical substances based on whether the chemical structure of these substances is similar to other substances, which have already been tested.

The so-called QSAR (quantitative structure-activity relationships) models are used e.g. to screen and prioritize  substances for further experimental testing, thereby reducing costs and number  of test animals.

In a new project the institute aims to develop QSAR models for some of the most important mechanisms that can affect the thyroid hormones. To develop the models the researchers will use experimental test data made available by American collaboration partners.

The new models will be used to screen more than 600,000 substances including around 70,000 substances potentially available on the European market, and the predictions will be made publically available through the National Food Institute’s QSAR database. The models can also contribute to the design of safer drugs and chemicals in the future.

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The National Food Institute’s QSAR database is one of the largest freely availably QSAR tools in the world and can be used by industry, regulators and researchers. The tool is described in further detail on the QSAR website.

The new project has received a grant from Denmark’s 3R-Center, which aims to find alternatives to animal testing. Read more about why the 3R-Center was established on the center’s website.