Science Day celebrates Institute achievements
By Jeffrey Stumpf
Continuing the early November tradition, the 10th annual NIEHS Science Day took place Nov. 1-2, bringing together scientists from intramural and extramural research and the National Toxicology Program. Science Day recognizes research and mentorship achievements by NIEHS scientists, and showcases breakthroughs in environmental health.
Traditionally, the Institute celebrates Science Day with dozens of poster presentations, several talks by NIEHS staff and fellows, and handing out of awards.
In addition to the extra day, this year’s Science Day added more talks by fellows and investigators, a presentation by a former NIEHS trainee, the first Fellow of the Year Award and, more importantly, as NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., noted, more participation across the Institute.
“This is the first year that we really have opened up Science Day and engaged in the process of one NIEHS,” Birnbaum remarked. “We now have many presentations, not only from DIR [Division of Intramural Research], but also from the Division of the National Toxicology Program (DNTP), and from the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT).”
Science day highlights achievements in stem cell research
In organizing the 2012 Science Day, Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., and his committee unified NIEHS researchers around a common theme — the impact of stem cell research on environmental health. Representatives from all three divisions gave talks on the topic.
Michael Waalkes, Ph.D., represented DNTP with his talk describing the effects of arsenic exposure in mice. After limited arsenic dosing during embryogenesis, Waalkes showed that the mice are more likely to develop tumors by altering stem cell numbers and response, thereby increasing cancer stem cells. Also, arsenic could transform cell lines into cancerous cells that quickly induced tumors when transplanted into the animal.
DIR advances in stem cell research were described by Guang Hu, Ph.D., a principal investigator in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis. Hu explained that CNOT proteins, in particular CNOT3, are important for cardiomyocyte differentiation. Using his methods, Hu envisions that he may be able to develop toxicity screens that would allow them to ask important questions about environmental health.
Les Reinlib, Ph.D., speaking on behalf of DERT, focused on building a field of stem cell research in environmental health. Reinlib stated that NIEHS wants to seed stem cell research by focusing on subjects such as the effects of early exposures on stem cell development, the window of time during development where stem cells are most susceptible to environmental hazards, and the role of stem cell reprogramming in environmental diseases.
And the winner is …
The NIEHS Trainees Assembly (NTA) selected Mitch Eddy, Ph.D., as the 2012 Mentor of the Year, based on recommendations by his present and past trainees. Numerous heartfelt letters of support described how Eddy impacted their lives scientifically, professionally, and personally.
Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellow Tracy Clement, Ph.D., nominated Eddy, describing him as enthusiastic, respected, open, selfless, thoughtful, and never dismissive. “It was not long after I started collecting letters of support from mentees that I realized how profound of an impact he really has had on his trainees,” Clement noted. “Mitch’s loyalty to his trainees and willingness to do all he can for them, during and after their training period, was recognized across the board and with deep appreciation.”
Bonnie Joubert, Ph.D., won the new Fellow of the Year Award, which recognizes extraordinary qualities in trainees that will prepare them for a well-rounded research career, such as passion for research, excellence in science communications, and leadership. Upon hearing of the new award category, investigator Stephanie London, M.D., Dr.P.H., immediately nominated the award winner.
London stated that Joubert has “a perfect storm of qualities that make her outstanding.” Trained as an epidemiologist, London mentioned that Joubert is well-trained in biology and programming, making her a valuable asset to the lab.
“There aren’t many people on the street that have Bonnie’s level of skill,” London said. “Not only that, she has a blazing work ethic — her computer is always about to melt.”
(Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D., is a research fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Genetics Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group.)