Through The Eyes Of Young Scientists – Gina Hilton

 Altertox went to meet 10 Young scientists to know more about their activities, vision of science and how they bring research and innovation using New Approach Methodologies (NAMs)!  

Gina Hilton

How did your story with toxicology begin?

so I decided to pursue a PhD in toxicology at North Carolina State University. During my graduate research, I focused on using omics technologies to evaluate potential human relevance of pathway-level responses of in vitro assays to model inhalation exposure.  My advisor, Dr. Michael Bereman, was actually leading a research program in proteomics. We clicked and decided to bring together our expertise, him in proteomics and me in toxicology – we forged many years of great collaboration! After my PhD, I started working for PETA Science Consortium International e.V. and made the natural choice to use my toxicological background to help replace testing on animals – a cause thats very important to me.  

What is the current hot topic in your lab

Our organisation funds the development of and research using 3D tissue models. For example, we
helped fund the development of the human-derived three-dimensional tissue model, EpiAlveolar, from MatTek. And, we’re funding testing using the MucilAir model from Epithelix and the EpiVaginal model from MatTek. We have an ongoing collaboration to urge the replacement of rabbit Draize test (eye irritation test) with in vitro and ex vivo assays, for testing agrochemical formulations. We’re working on initiatives to maximize reproducibility of in vitro cell culture methods by replacing undefined cell culture media additives, like fetal bovine serum. Last but not least, training will always be a hot topic for us. We regularly coordinate webinars and workshops (ex: in collaboration with SOT, with US EPA, etc.) that are freely available. These trainings are a great way to share updates related to development and use of new approach methods (NAMs) with the international community.

Tara Barton-Maclaren ; Health Canada

Patience Brown ; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Mirjam Luijten ; National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)

Monique Perron ; United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)

What drives you/motivates you to work under the 3Rs topic?

It started in high school, when I simply could not do animal experimentation. It’s something that I
carried with me through my studies. I tried to avoid it as much as possible. A part of the reason I
joined the proteomics group for my Ph.D. was to specifically work with in vitro methods. My biggest motivation to continue under this path is to replace animal testing with relevant methods that can rapidly provide health protective information – I believe that we can improve toxicity testing with non-animal methods. One of my primary goals is to reduce the time it takes for relevant non-animal methods to be incorporated into regulatory decision making for risk assessment. We are living in the 21 st Century, and we can and should work with fit-for-purpose technologies to advance our scientific practice.

Are there things to change to ease the replacement of animal in science?

Change will only come with open minds and opportunities to build confidence in computational and in vitro methods. I think there needs to be improved communication, especially for willingness to share data, which is critical to improve in vitro and in silico models. Second, I think we need to have a fundamental shift in the funding system away from funding animal tests towards research and development of NAMs. This type of funding reallocation will help facilitate timely development and validation of NAMs to ultimately be used for regulatory decision making. Last but not least, expanding NAM-focused education and training for the next generation of scientists. The next generation should have the opportunity to not only to learn about non-animal methods in the classroom but to also have hands-on training using new technologies.

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What is next in science ?

I would say leveraging omics-based technologies (transcriptomics, proteomics, etc.) for toxicity testing. Transcriptomic studies are driving changes in the approach to generating mechanistic data to support chemical safety evaluation. The information that results from using omics technologies can be more targeted and relevant compared to those derived from apical endpoints, and has great potential to inform regulatory decision making. It also has the advantage of being broadly applicable too: it gives a picture of what is happening at a subcellular level and can generate information linked to key biological events used to understand toxicity. Currently, there is a lot of research on the use of omics, particularly transcriptomics, to identify the bioactivity point of departure, which holds promise to support health protective chemical risk assessment. There is growing interest to use these technologies for in vitro systems to rapidly generate data to be used for an integrated assessment of chemical risk.

What are your Professional expectations?

I will definitely continue my career working with the Science Consortium and leverage opportunities to improve safety assessment by replacing tests on animals with modern, reliable, non-animal methods. To do that, I will continue collaborating with government agencies, academics, NGOs, and industries to facilitate a paradigm shift in our approach to chemical risk assessment. I believe a tangible way to do that is to continue building frameworks that incorporate relevant technologies and non-animal methods for chemical toxicity testing.  


Webinar Series on the Use of New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) in Risk Assessment :

 Society of Toxicology: 

ONE – Health, Environment, Society – Conference 2022:

  • Harrill J, Viant M, Yauk C, Sachana M, Gant T, Auerbach S, Beger R, Bouhifd M, O’Brien J, Burgoon L, Caiment F, Carpi D, Chen T, Chorley BN, Colbourne J, Corvi R, Debrauwer L, O’Donovan C, Ebbels T, Ekman D, Faulhammer F, Gribaldo L, Hilton GM, Jones SP, Kende A, Lawson TN, Leite SB, Leonards P, Luijten M, Martin A, Moussa L, Rudaz S, Schmitz O, Sobanski T, Strauss V, Vaccari M, Vijay V, Weber R, Williams AJ, Williams A, Thomas RS, Whelan W. 2021. Progress Towards an OECD Reporting Framework for Transcriptomics and Metabolomics in Regulatory Toxicology. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 125:105020. 

    Luijten M, Corvi R, Mehta J, Corvaro M, Delrue N, Felter S, Haas B, Hewitt NJ, Hilton GM, Holmes T, Jacobs MN, Jacobs A, Lamplmair F, Lewis D, Madia F, Manou I, Melching-Kollmuss S, Schorsch F, Schütte K, Sewell F, Strupp C, Willemvan der Laan J, Wolf DC, Wolterink G, Woutersen R, Zvonar Z, Heusinkveld H, Braakhuis H. 2020. A comprehensive view on mechanistic approaches for cancer risk assessment of non-genotoxic agrochemicals. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 118:104789. 

    Hilton GM, Odenkirchen E, Panger M, Waleko G, Lowit A, Clippinger AJ. 2019. Evaluation of the avian acute oral and sub-acute dietary toxicity test for pesticide registration. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 105:30-35.  

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