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Award-winning Researcher Gerald Wogan Speaks at NIEHS

By Colleen Chandler
November 2005

Gerald Wogan
Gerald Wogan (Photo by Steve McCaw, Image Associates)

Like a detective story, it was a mystery of sorts that drew Gerald Wogan, an MIT professor and NIEHS-funded researcher, into the scientific intricacies of aflatoxin: What killed more than 100,000 young turkeys within a few months in England in the 1960s?

The answer, initially deemed "Turkey X disease" but later identified as aflatoxin, led Wogan down a 25-year path of multi-disciplinary research. Ben Van Houten, who wears two hats at NIEHS as chief of the Program Analysis Branch in DERT and as principal investigator in DIR's Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, said Wogan's scientific journey is a remarkable example of scientific discovery, going from the chemistry of the compound to human cancer.

Wogan presented "Identification of Aflatoxin as a Human Liver Carcinogen: The Role of Molecular Biomarkers in Risk Characterization" Oct. 10 as part of the NIEHS Distinguished Lecture Series.

Aflatoxin is a natural product made by a common fungus, Aspergillus flavus. This mold grows on food crops after they are harvested but before they dry. Aflatoxin is metabolized by humans, and this active form can attack DNA and is suspected of causing liver cancer in humans. It is especially problematic in developing countries where agricultural standards are less stringent than in the United States.

Wogan's reseach included elements of chemistry and biology as he scrutinized how aflatoxin is metabolized and forms specific DNA adducts. His research also included epidemiology as he and colleagues studied how aflatoxin is linked to liver cancer in China and other parts of Asia.

Van Houten described Wogan as "very gracious," citing as the most important aspect of his research career the success of researchers he trained over the years who developed independent but related lines of research that contribute to the body of knowledge now surrounding aflatoxin.

Wogan received the 2005 General Motors Cancer Research Award for his work. NIEHS funded Wogan's research over the last three decades. For more information on Wogan's research go to

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