Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ToxBank: the next generation toxicology

Update: the paper should now be freely downloadable.

Before I moved to my current position in Maastricht, I had the great pleasure to work with Prof. Roland Grafström (check his pathway bioinformatics done with his then PhD Rebecca) and Prof. Bengt Fadeel at the Karolinska Institutet. During this year I part-time worked on ToxBank and part-time on nano-QSAR, and worked on semantics, predictive toxicology, and Open Data. This blog post is about the ToxBank work.

I promised firework, and the first rockets are heading upwards: a key ToxBank paper has now been published in Molecular Informatics. Pekka Kohonen wrote up a nice overview of the ToxBank project, the current platform (based on RDF, REST, ISATab, and OpenTox (my archives)), and the test compounds that the SEURAT-1 cluster identified. Various bioinformatics approaches were used to visualize the diversity of the selected compounds. The idea is that the all EU FP7 projects in the SEURAT-1 cluster (consisting of six consortia) will test at least these compounds, creating a rich data set of toxicology-related data for these compounds.

As a temporary, quick solution I proposed the Semantic MediaWiki to create a semantic knowledge base, which was extensively and very productively continued by David from Leadscope. This way, we could easily list all compounds, by doing a search, rather than manually adding them:

Each compound has extensive information on the mode of action, physicochemical properties and more (such as here for acetaminophen):

All this information is available as semantic data. For example, check this link. Network and Gene Ontology analyses on these compounds have been performed, and presented in the paper, further confirming the diversity of the compound set. This leads to possible integration of their work with WikPathways and PathVisio, and I will do my best to get the right people talking to each other.

The ToxBank project further develops Open Source software for an online data warehouse for hosting experimental data on these compounds. A mix of approaches is used here to base their warehouse on, including OpenTox (RDF and REST(-like)-based), ISATab, and various ontologies.

In designing their software, they use a pretty unique approach for EU projects, based on formal requirement analyses protocols, resulting in a user-oriented platform. Now, there is much to say about who the user is, and in fact, there are multiple user types, called personas, and ToxBank takes that idea into account.

Therefore, in many ways, ToxBank is, in my humble but somewhat biased opinion, a project that leads the (predictive) toxicology community into a new era. Congratulations to the full ToxBank consortium! It was great being part of it!

ResearchBlogging.orgKohonen, P., Benfenati, E., Bower, D., Ceder, R., Crump, M., Cross, K., Grafström, R., Healy, L., Helma, C., Jeliazkova, N., Jeliazkov, V., Maggioni, S., Miller, S., Myatt, G., Rautenberg, M., Stacey, G., Willighagen, E., Wiseman, J., & Hardy, B. (2013). The ToxBank Data Warehouse: Supporting the Replacement of In Vivo Repeated Dose Systemic Toxicity Testing Molecular Informatics DOI: 10.1002/minf.201200114


  1. Well,

    "You can purchase online access to this Article for a 24-hour period (price varies by title) "

    Project cost:3,129,992 EURO
    Project Funding:1,564,996 EURO
    but no 2500 Euro left for Open Access Publication?

    That is so sad :-(
    No worries, same in the US for NSF (but not NIH) funded stuff.


    1. I am pretty sure the idea is that the paper is going to be OA... I will check...

    2. Tobias, did you manage to get the free version now?