In modern life, the human body interacts with innumerable man-made substances. They are in the clothes we wear, the cosmetics we use, the food we eat, the packaging which carries that food. But how does one understand what might be benign and what might be harmful? The below Guardian article and a research group at Exeter University nicely highlight the problem facing industry today: how can you evaluate and balance the mass of data in the scientific literature?
With properties similar to oestrogen, a now infamous example is Bisphenol-A, or BPA. BPA is an industrial chemical which has been used since the 1960s to make certain types of plastic and can be found in plastic containers and water bottles, till receipts, on the inside of cans and bottle tops and in plastic packaging and tubing. It can get into the body through our diet. Highly-processed foods, or foods packaged in some plastics, can contain high levels of BPA. It is capable of causing changes to the expression of oestrogen-responsive genes, and the regulation of hormones. BPA has been linked to type-two diabetes, breast cancer and coronary artery disease.
The data is vast but can still provide limited evidence, contradictory evidence or simply be an extrapolation of in vitro or animal trials to understand likely behaviour in humans. But what does this data say in aggregate if conclusive data is absent? This is a hard problem for industry to solve: many companies use or produce thousands of chemicals which enter the economy in any number of ways and cannot evaluate all the data.
As the authors say, however, it is tough to get concrete proof that BPA is definitively involved in many of these diseases. Praedicat’s algorithms have identified over 800 articles which discuss BPA-associated harm scenarios, ranging from reproductive injury (with nearly 300 articles) to cardiovascular disease (with only 20 articles). For each of these harms Praedicat calculates a score quantifying the evidence’s support for the agent causing that harm. Our CEO, Bob Reville, previously wrote about BPA here.
At Praedicat, we are dedicated to understanding how today’s scientific data describes these chemicals and helping companies reach informed and timely decisions. Praedicat mines, curates and quantifies the scientific data at machine scale, allowing for companies to make decisions earlier and faster in the product lifecycle.
The problem is that it is hard to get concrete proof that BPA is definitively involved in many of these diseases. “Obviously it’s not ethically possible to experiment with humans, so most of the studies have been in test tubes or animals, and then scientists extrapolate from that what might be happening in humans,