Copyright: DTU Fødevareinstituttet

Online calculator can predict mixture effects of chemicals

Wednesday 15 Jan 20

Contact

Anne Marie Vinggaard
Professor
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 75 49

Contact

Julie Boberg
Senior Reseacher
National Food Institute
+45 93 51 89 11

An online tool developed at the Technical University of Denmark can assess the risk of a mixture effect occurring when people are exposed simultaneously to several chemicals with a similar harmful effect.

On a daily basis, people are constantly exposed to countless natural and synthetic chemicals from food, consumer products and the environment.

To protect individuals from the harmful effects of these chemicals, it is not sufficient to assess the risk posed by each chemical on its own. Research has shown that if more chemicals with the same harmful effect are present at the same time, they can do harm—even in doses that are harmless on their own.

Pragmatic approach to risk assessment of mixture effects

Researchers from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, have developed the online tool, Chemical Mixture Calculator, to assess the risk of a mixture effect occurring, when people are exposed to chemical mixtures. The tool was developed in a research project under the Government initiative Fødevareforlig 3, which aims to improve chemical food safety.

"We can use the ‘Chemical Mixture Calculator’ to investigate whether a mixture effect occurs when people are exposed to a specific mixture of chemicals that have a similar harmful effect—but it can also tell us which chemicals in the mixture are driving the mixture effect."
Professor Anne Marie Vinggaard

The tool contains a comprehensive database. The database contains data on the toxicity of a large number of chemical substances as well as human exposure data of these substances, which different population groups are exposed to through their diets. The substances in the database are grouped according to which part of the body (e.g. the nervous or reproductive system) they can affect.

“We can use the ‘Chemical Mixture Calculator’ to investigate whether a mixture effect occurs when people are exposed to a specific mixture of chemicals that have a similar harmful effect—but it can also tell us which chemicals in the mixture are driving the mixture effect,” Professor Anne Marie Vinggaard from the National Food Institute explains.

As such, researchers and authorities can use the calculator e.g. to identify particularly problematic substances that should be investigated or regulated more closely.

Can inspire internationally

In recent years, researchers and authorities around the world have become increasingly aware of the importance of taking mixture effects into consideration when assessing the risk to human health associated with exposure to chemical mixtures.

Researchers at the National Food Institute expect that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will be able to use the tool in their work to improve risk assessments of chemical mixtures.

”Much progress is happening in this area internationally, so the ideas behind our tool might become of great importance globally," Anne Marie Vinggaard says.

Work to improve the tool continues

The current version of the ‘Chemical Mixture Calculator’ relies on toxicity data that have been obtained from animal studies. The researchers will continue to develop the tool so that it also includes data from cell experiments and human internal exposure data.

Read more

The scientific basis underlying the principles of the calculator is described in an article by the National Food Institute, which was published in Current Opinion in Toxicology: A pragmatic approach for human risk assessment of chemical mixtures.

For access to the calculator, please write to Senior Researcher Julie Boberg: jubo@food.dtu.dk.

A short video from the National Food Institute shows how mixture effects occur and how to predict the risk of such an effect. 

See also the project report: MiraculiX. Strengthened risk assessment of chemicals.

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17 FEBRUARY 2020