A number of NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) staff and grantees received honors at the March 12-16 Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting in Baltimore. The awards recognized scientific achievements of both senior and junior scientists, as well as professional contributions to the field of toxicology.
Birnbaum honored as Distinguished Toxicology Scholar
As part of the Distinguished Toxicology Scholar award, NIEHS and NTP director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., gave a lecture about an important toxicological discovery to which she contributed. By studying how cells respond to dioxins, which are potent pollutants from waste incineration, and products like Agent Orange, scientists have made important discoveries about the role of the aryl hydrocarbon (Ah) receptor in human biology.
The Ah receptor plays an essential role in normal cell metabolism and physiology, helping to regulate how cells develop and become specialized, according to Birnbaum. In addition, toxicology studies have shown that cells activate the Ah receptor in response to pollutants like dioxins. This knowledge helps explain why exposure to dioxins can cause a long list of health effects, including harm to developmental, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems, depending on when a person is exposed.
“All of dioxin’s effects require the Ah receptor, and context is everything,” said Birnbaum. “You see very different effects depending upon whether you look during development or if you look at adults.”
Career contributions recognized
Dori Germolec, Ph.D., leader of the NTP Systems Toxicology Group, received the Lifetime Career Achievement Award from the SOT Immunotoxicology Specialty Section. The award recognizes scientists who study how pollutants may alter immune system function and who have contributed substantially to the science, successfully mentored junior scientists, and provided leadership and service to the field.
“Dori is a role model not only for other female scientists, but also for all scientists who strive to positively influence their fields in innovative as well as practical ways,” said Jamie DeWitt, Ph.D., from East Carolina University. “As a female scientist with surprisingly few role models in my current academic setting, seeing Dori’s determination, dedication, and success in the field of immunotoxicology is inspiring.”
NIEHS grantee Jason Richardson, Ph.D., from Northeast Ohio Medical University, received the SOT Achievement Award for research on how environmental pollutants and genes may interact in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Richardson is a former NIEHS Outstanding New Environmental Scientist and is the chairperson of the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Review Committee.
Junior scientists show promise
Newer scientists were also recognized for contributions to toxicology. NIEHS grantee Dana Dolinoy, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan, received the Outstanding Young Investigator award from the SOT Women in Toxicology (WIT) special interest group. Dolinoy studies how environmental pollutants may interfere with the signals that switch genes on and off to control cell function, a field called toxicoepigenetics.
NIEHS supported research for two of the three SOT Best Postdoctoral Publication Awards. Sascha Nicklisch, Ph.D., a postdoc at the University of California, San Diego, was recognized for a paper funded through the Oceans and Human Health program. Nicklisch’s findings showed how persistent organic pollutants consumed through seafood may be able to linger and cause cellular damage by preventing the function of an essential clearing mechanism for cells.
Fabian Grimm, Ph.D., a postdoc at Texas A&M University who was mentored by University of North Carolina Superfund Research Program Center grantee Ivan Rusyn, M.D., Ph.D., was also honored. Grimm’s paper demonstrated an effective way to rapidly evaluate potential health impacts from chemicals, by combining results from toxicological screening in the laboratory with existing data about chemical characteristics.
(Virginia Guidry, Ph.D., is a technical writer and public information specialist in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)