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Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: EFSA's 2nd Scientific Conference Shaping the Future of Food Safety, Together
There is a fundamental change in thinking within the regulatory community due to a better understanding of the underlying biology of adverse effects to human health and the environment. The development of alternatives to use laboratory animals has become a priority. In addition, technological progress is impacting greatly on the amount of data available and on the ways to process and analyse it. Topics, such as identification of adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) and modes of action (MoA), together with integrated assessment and testing approaches (IATAs), represent fundamental tools for hazard identification and characterisation of a chemical. Complex endpoints cannot be predicted by a single standalone non-animal test; thus, a major challenge is the complex nature of biological systems. Microphysiological systems (MPS) will enable more complex in vitro human models that better simulate the organ’s biology and function by combining different cell types in a specific three-dimensional configuration that simulates functional organs. The process of validation of new approaches needs to be considered in terms of efficiency and length. Regulators might still not have enough confidence to adopt and apply these new approaches: this phase is very challenging and the activities performed by assay developers are not yet addressing the regulatory requirements needs sufficiently. The IATAs provide a framework to consistently evaluate new approach data and could assist in understanding their relevance for specific endpoints. The data need to be reproducible, understandable and statistically sound: indeed, a major issue lies in the interpretation and integration of the results based on subjective assessment, which relies on expert judgement. A well-defined mechanistic characterisation is proposed as a way forward to ensure the relevance of new cell-based test systems.