How did GOLIATH come to be?
I coordinated the FP7 project OBELIX, on prenatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and the risk of obesity later in life, the first European project on metabolism disrupting chemicals. Only at that time, we called them obesogens, a term coined by Prof. Bruce Blumberg at University of California Irvine, now a partner of GOLIATH. In the first decade of obesogen research, it became clear that EDCs can do much more that promote the growth of fat cells. These chemicals interfere with insulin secretion in the beta cell, they interfere with lipid metabolism in the liver, they affect hormone secretion and brain development. They affect tissues involved in energy metabolism and homeostasis. It became clear that research in the field needed to move from obesogens to something broader, namely metabolism disrupting chemicals.
When the call came out last year from the European Commission for proposals to develop new and improved approaches to meet evolving regulatory requirements for EDCs, I jumped at the opportunity to carry on the work started in OBELIX. Together with my deputy coordinator Dr Daniel Zalko from INRA, France, we put together the strongest consortium of experts in the field and wrote a very ambitious plan of research. You can’t imagine how thrilled we were when we found out our proposal was accepted!
So where does the acronym come from?
Having worked on a project with a brilliant acronym like OBELIX, it wasn’t easy to come up with something better. Something bigger and better, because now we’re not only addressing obesity, we are addressing related disorders like type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver. After many hours of wracking my brain, the giant came to me: GOLIATH. But like in the biblical tale, GOLIATH needs to be brought down, and that’s why we added ‘beating’ to our title. It is our vision that better understanding of the role of MDCs in metabolic disorders, and better methods for testing chemicals for these effects, will help to bring down this giant.
What do you hope to accomplish in five years?
We have set out a very ambitious plan with the ultimate goal of improving hazard and risk assessment of MDCs. We will do this by generating novel, optimised, integrated and internationally harmonised approaches for testing metabolic disruption. We will span the entire spectrum of EDC testing, from in silico predictive modelling and high throughput screening, to the development of robust ready-to-use in vitro assays and optimisation of current in vivo testing guidelines. We will provide novel insights by which MDCs disrupt metabolic pathways and induce adverse effects on human health. We will work closely with the OECD and other international stakeholders to develop the world’s first internationally harmonised strategy for testing MDCs. On a personal note, I am so excited and honored to coordinate this project, which brings together talented people from academic, research organization, regulatory agencies and private business. I truly believe that the best ideas form when you bring people together with different backgrounds and expertise, and it sure is a lot of fun at the same time!
You also coordinate EURION, the cluster of 8 new H2020 project on EDCs, what’s that all about?
Eight projects received funding from the H2020 call, all focusing on better testing strategies for the less-studied ED-related outcomes such as developmental neurotoxicity, thyroid hormone disruption, and female reproduction. There are actually three projects covering metabolism disrupting chemicals, so it is important that we work together and do not duplicate efforts. Together with the coordinator of the OBERON project, I will coordinate the first 15 months of the cluster. We our holding regular meetings to streamline our work, and to develop cross-cutting working groups to ensure collaboration, sharing of data, and making the most of our budgets. We will organize common cluster meetings, symposia and workshops, and make sure the world knows that Europe is leading on ED research and testing! But we can’t do it alone, and all of the 8 projects are guided by a common international advisory panel, and have identified common international stakeholders, to ensure our efforts do not go unnoticed.