My First Step in Risk Assessment: 95% Confidence Achieved in Risk Assessment


By Miao Li posted 07-16-2015 13:32


How will the toxicology research conducted in labs help to protect people from exposures in daily life? That is the long-standing question from my study and research experiences in toxicology. Risk assessment is the bridge connecting experimental observations to real-life policies. With the generous support of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Supplemental Training for Education Program (STEP) and my advisor Gabriele Ludewig, I attended the 2015 TERA Dose-Response Assessment Boot Camp from June 8–12, 2015,  at the University of Cincinnati. The goal of this intensive course is to move trainees from 0% to 95% confidence in risk assessment in five days.

From Left to Right, Dr. Andrew Maier (the main instructor of boot camp), Miao Li, Ms. Patricia Nance (boot camp course coordinator).

Pictured above from left to right are Dr. Andrew Maier (the main instructor of the boot camp), Miao Li, and Ms. Patricia Nance (boot camp coordinator).

All my journeys in risk assessment started from SOT.  For a long time, I have been interested in the research area of PBPK and biological modeling, but I didn’t know how to include them in my research in toxicology. I joined the SOT Biological Modeling Specialty Section (BMSS) and Risk Assessment Specialty Section (RASS) and talked with people and got suggestions. I realized that risk assessment is the area that perfectly combines my interests and my research experiences.

I received valuable suggestions from Harvey Clewell and Bob Sonawane to communicate more with people working in the area, take the continuing education courses offered by SOT, and attend the webinars from RASS regularly. However, I still sought a way to get systematical training in risk assessment. During the SOT Annual Meeting in San Diego, Michael Dourson suggested that I take the Dose-Response Assessment Boot Camp to achieve my career goals.

Boot Camp Binder, Books and Certificate.jpg

The class material binder, Homework Case Study Book, Textbook, Toxicological Risk Assessment for Beginners, (helped me to survive), The Certification of Completion

When I received the binder of the course slides, the footprint of a heavy-duty boot and the sentence “Risk Assessment from 0 to 95% Confidence in 5 Days!” on the cover caught my eyes. As the trainees in the Boot Camp are diverse, from senior toxicologists with 10 to 20 years experience in risk assessment to graduate students like me, before the course began I was not sure whether I could survive. The introduction removed all my doubts about the Boot Camp.

The courses covered the basic topics, from risk assessment terminology to practical methods used by state agencies for risk assessment. All the content taught details of the four components of risk assessment: hazard identification, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. Cutting-edge methods in risk assessment, such as Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP) and Biologically-Based Dose-Response (BBDR) models, also were introduced. No matter, amateur or professional in risk assessment, the Boot Camp had some new knowledge for everyone. 

The Boot Camp is a well-designed, intensive course. The pop quiz was the first thing every day to keep the adrenaline level high enough for the whole morning. The group work trivia burst at noon helped us stay up with the instructors during the afternoon class. The Boot Camp combined both lectures and hands-on training for risk assessment. The lectures were taught by Drs. Dourson, Lynne Haber, and Andrew Maier, who are well-known in the risk assessment area because of their long-term experience.

The hands-on software training for Regional Deposited Dose Ratio (RDDR),  Multiple-Path Particle Dosimetry (MPPD) model, and Benchmark Dose (BMDS) Software  was taught by Ms. Ann Parker, assisted by Ms. Patricia Nance, who both have experience preparing software training courses for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The final project of the Boot Camp was to prepare a risk assessment report based on materials from EPA reports. The application of all the knowledge and methods we learned throughout the course increased our confidence in performing risk assessment by ourselves. Comparison of the BMDS (benchmark doses) we calculated to the EPA report BMDS gave us a better understanding of how the agency carries out risk assessment and highlighted differences for our consideration.  

Important parts of the Boot Camp are the group project and networking. The camp was a great opportunity to get to know colleagues who are also interested in risk assessment. Lots of trainees work in the area of risk assessment. It was nice to talk with them and learn about the daily tasks for their jobs as risk assessors working in industry or state agencies. We were lucky to have a combined reception with the experts attending the AOP workshop and met the people famous in the areas of risk assessment and biological modeling.

Through the Dose-Response Assessment Boot Camp, I systematically learned dose-response risk assessment and I achieved 95% confidence in risk assessment. Also, the Boot Camp strengthens my path to career goals in the area of human health risk assessment. However, the Boot Camp is not the end, but the beginning for my risk assessment study. Becoming expert in risk assessment is a process requiring time and experiences, just as Dr. Arnold Lehman said, “Risk assessment is easy. You can learn it in two steps….Each step takes ten years.” I just started my first step.