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Environmental Factor

November 2011

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New toxicology lab is joint effort of NCI and NIEHS

By Ian Thomas
November 2011

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

After giving leadership her undivided attention for nearly three years, Birnbaum is ready to spend some time on her own research with flame retardant chemicals. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mike Sanders, Ph.D., D.A.B.T.

Like Birnbaum, Sanders holds a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology (D.A.B.T.) certification. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In an announcement to Institute leadership Oct. 19, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.(, unveiled her plans for the Laboratory of Toxicology and Toxicokinetics (LTT), a joint research endeavor of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)( Exit NIEHS and the NIEHS Division of Intramural Research. Administered by NCI and operated out of the NIEHS main campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., this newest addition to the NIH research family will focus predominantly on toxicity of xenobiotics - chemicals that are foreign to a living organism, such as a drug, pesticide, or carcinogen - with an emphasis on environmental pollutants.

“We're extremely excited for the future of this lab,” said Birnbaum of the project, which she herself will spearhead. “We've assembled a wonderful staff of talented scientists, each of whom brings a highly unique set of skills to the team and all of whom are eager to get started.”

All in the family

Boasting a small staff of 4-6 members, LTT will be led by Mike Sanders, Ph.D., a former researcher with NTP and a longtime colleague of Birnbaum.

“I've known Linda since 1981, when we worked together in the Chemical Disposition and Metabolism Group here at NIEHS,” recalled Sanders, a career toxicologist who earned his doctorate from North Carolina State University. “In many respects, much of the work we'll be doing here is a carryover from those early days.”

According to Sanders, LTT's initial focus will be the further examination of brominated flame retardants, chemicals used in many flame resistant materials that have come under scrutiny in recent years for their potentially harmful effects to the environment and human health. While this is presently a hot button issue within the scientific community, Sanders notes that it's of particular importance to Birnbaum.

“Linda is extremely passionate about protecting human health, especially with regard to the toxic effects of chemicals on the environment,” said Sanders. “That makes both this lab and its mission very near and dear to her because, in many ways, they're an extension of the work she's done throughout her career as a scientist.”

Back to the future

Sanders admits that while the manners and methodologies of scientific research have evolved significantly since the early 1980s, both he and Birnbaum agree that LTT will always remember where it came from.

“As it pertains to characterizing mechanisms of toxicity, this lab will employ some newer, cutting-edge technologies, which are designed to investigate chemical effects at the molecular level,” Sanders explained. “Still, when it comes to chemical metabolism and disposition, we'll always have room for the tried and true techniques that we used in the old NIEHS group in 1981.”

Help from the masses

Sanders says that LTT will soon be up and running with the first of its experiments, an impressive achievement given its otherwise empty-shell status upon his arrival in mid-July.

“Anytime you're trying to get a program like this off the ground, there are always administrative and logistical hoops to jump through,” he noted. “Since the start of this process this past summer, we've built this entire lab completely from scratch and that simply could not have been done without the incredible hard work of everyone involved from both NCI and NIEHS.”

For more information about LTT, or to schedule a tour, contact Mike Sanders at 919-541-1872 or by email at

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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