UNC-Chapel Hill will expand its research efforts in computational toxicology and bioinformatics with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA awarded UNC-CH’s School of Public Health a $3.4 million grant that covers four years. The money will be used to help create what the university is calling the Carolina Center for Computational Toxicology.

Computational toxicology is designed to model adverse effects of drugs and chemicals and how they might affect people as well as the environment. Scientists also hope to use the research to better understand the genetic reasons for why people can react differently to chemicals.

“The UNC School of Public Health is a world leader in many areas of science that improve the health of people in North Carolina and around the world, and the new center will strengthen our capacity for understanding and predicting the inter-individual differences in risk from environmental exposures,” said Ivan Rusyn, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC. He was also the principal investigator for the grant, which UNC-CH won through a competitive process.

Computational toxicology can speed up safety screening and how to handle chemicals, Rusyn added.

"While many of these have been tested extensively for their safety to humans and the environment, the ability of regulatory agencies to reach unequivocal conclusions regarding potential risks is limited," he said.

"Our understanding of the mechanisms of the potential harmful effects of environmental agents is improving, but much needs to be done to develop rapid, efficient and cheap ways to screen through hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals."