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Environmental Factor, April 2012

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Enthusiasm for science reigns at SOT

By Robin Mackar

NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. and SOT President Jon Cook, Ph.D.

NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., welcomed SOT President Jon Cook, Ph.D., to the NIEHS/NTP/EHP exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Hui Hu)

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

When not giving talks or meeting up with colleagues, Birnbaum could be found at the exhibit catching up on emails. (Photo courtesy of Hui Hu)

The cool San Francisco weather and heavy rain didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 7,000 scientists who attended the annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) Meeting March 11-15. 

“The energy level at SOT was very high,” said NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. “Not only does the annual meeting provide a chance to hear and see the newest findings in the world of toxicology, but also offers many opportunities to catch up with colleagues and friends and, sometimes, you can even find time to make some new acquaintances.” As a past president of SOT, Birnbaum is well known and a popular draw at the meeting.

A few highlights

NIEHS/NTP staff led more than 110 science-related activities at the meeting, including talks and posters highlighting new findings, symposia, keynote lectures, demos of databases, exhibitor-hosted sessions, continuing education classes, and meetings with Superfund directors and grantees, as well as shared information about funding opportunities and recruited postdocs.

One of the busiest spots at the meeting was the combined NIEHS/NTP and Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) exhibit. In addition to it being the hub for information about all NIEHS/NTP programs and activities, the exhibit served as a place for attendees to get hands-on experience with NTP databases. Scott Auerbach, Ph.D., of the NTP Biomolecular Screening Branch, formally introduced the DrugMatrix® and ToxFX® toxicogenomic database and analysis tools, at an exhibitor-hosted session on Monday that was very well attended.

Auerbach also gave demos at the booth. Laura Hall, Asif Rashid, and Hui Gong, from the NTP Program Operations Branch, presented a poster and walked many attendees through some of the upgrades and new information on the Chemical Effects in Biological Systems (CEBS) database. “We were all very pleased at the interest shown in our databases,” Hall said. As a first-timer at the meeting, she also admitted being a little overwhelmed by the breadth of the meetings’ offerings.

Another hot spot at SOT was the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) research funding and resource room, where Carol Shreffler, Ph.D., Annette Kirshner, Ph.D., and other DERT staff discussed federal research funding opportunities. According to Kirshner, “The grant writing brown bag session was a big hit with first-time grant writers.”

The numerous continuing education sessions chaired by NIEHS/NTP staff were also very well attended, ranging from sessions on harmonized guidance for risk assessment and techniques for assessing chemical mixtures to nanotechnology.

Birnbaum continued to be a huge draw at all the sessions she participated in, especially the annual “Meet the Directors” special symposium. She provided a budget update and spent much of her time talking about the strategic planning process taking place at NIEHS. Birnbaum shared the stage with leaders from other agencies, including former NIEHS/NTP leader Chris Portier, Ph.D., who now heads the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

SOT leaders among us

NIEHS/NTP is also proud to have two elected SOT leaders representing the Institute. Dori Germolec, Ph.D., immunology discipline leader for the NTP, and Michael Waalkes, Ph.D., chief of the NTP Laboratory, serve as SOT councilors. Both commented about how pleased they were with the meeting.

“NIEHS was very well represented at the SOT, with wonderful presentations from the director on down to numerous postdoctoral fellows,” Waalkes said with a sense of pride. “Toxicology continues to shine at the Institute.”

(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Scott Auerbach, Ph.D., performing database demos

The database demos were quite popular. Auerbach was kept busy throughout the conference. (Photo courtesy of Denise Lasko)

Laura Hall

Hall and her colleagues showed more than 50 people how to use the CEBS database. (Photo courtesy of Asif Rashid)

2012 award recipients with ties to NIEHS/NTP

  • Grantee Donna Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona, is the recipient of the SOT 2012 Achievement Award. Zhang has made several seminal observations in the Nrf2-Keap1 field that are establishing new paradigms for understanding its roles in toxicology. This work has been supported, in part, through a highly competitive Outstanding New Environmental Scientist award from NIEHS, as well as awards from the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.
  • Former NTP Deputy Director John Moore, D.V.M., was presented the 2012 SOT Founders Award in recognition of his outstanding leadership in fostering the role of toxicological sciences in safety decision-making. Moore also previously served as director of toxicology research and testing at NIEHS.
  • Grantee and former councilor Martin Philbert, Ph.D., dean and professor of toxicology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, is the recipient of the 2012 SOT Public Communications Award, in recognition of his major contributions in broadening public awareness on toxicological issues, and disseminating the message of toxicology and its impact in our society. Philbert has served on the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council of NIEHS and continues to advise several federal agencies on a variety of issues surrounding emerging nanotechnologies.
  • Consultant Xuemei Huang, M.D., Ph.D., was honored with the 2012 Translational/Bridging Travel Award. Huang is associate professor in the departments of neurology, neurosurgery, pharmacology, radiology, kinesiology, and bioengineering at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State University, as well as the director of the Hershey Brain Analysis Research Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Disorders. She is a member of a number of professional groups related to toxicant exposures and, since 2007, has served as a consultant to NIEHS.

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