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IMM Conference Big Data: Professor Thomas Hartung

Making Big Sense from Big Data in Toxicology

Modern information technologies have made big data available in safety sciences, i.e., extremely large data sets that may be analyzed only computationally to reveal patterns, trends and associations. This happens by (1) compilation of large sets of existing data, e.g., as a result of the European REACH regulation, (2) the use of omics technologies and (3) systematic robotized testing in a high-throughput manner. All three approaches and some other high-content technologies leave us with big data – the challenge is now to make big sense of these data. Read-across, i.e., the local similarity-based intrapolation of properties, is gaining momentum with increasing data availability and consensus on how to process and report it. It is predominantly applied to in vivo test data as a gap-filling approach, but can similarly complement other incomplete datasets. Big data are first of all repositories for finding similar substances and ensure that the available data is fully exploited. High-content and high-throughput approaches similarly require focusing on clusters, in this case formed by underlying mechanisms such as pathways of toxicity. The closely connected properties, i.e., structural and biological similarity, create the confidence needed for predictions of toxic properties. Here, also a new web-based tool under development called REACH-across, which aims to support and automate structure-based read-across, is presented among others.

Short biography

Thomas Hartung, MD PhD, is Professor of Toxicology (Chair for Evidence-based Toxicology), Pharmacology, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, and University of Konstanz, Germany; he also is Director of their Centers for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT, with the portal AltWeb ( CAAT hosts the secretariat of the Evidence-based Toxicology Collaboration (, the Good Cell Culture Practice Collaboration, the Green Toxicology Collaboration and the Industry Refinement Working Group. As PI, he heads the Human Toxome project ( funded as an NIH Transformative Research Grant. He is the former Head of the European Commission’s Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), Ispra, Italy. He has authored more than 470 scientific publications.