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Institute Enjoys a Banner Year at SOT

By Eddy Ball
April 2009

Photo of the NIEHS and NTP stands.
The NIEHS and NTP booth was a four-spot, three-dimensional coordinated exhibit. Shown above is the NIEHS portion of the booth. (Photo by Christine Bruske Flowers)

Photo of NTP stand.
The NTP portion, above, was centered around the theme "30 Years of Toxicology Excellence." (Photo by Christine Bruske Flowers)

Photo of NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
SOT members were delighted to see one of their own taking the helm at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of SOT)

Photo of Scott Aurerbach, Ph.D.
Risk Assessment SS Perry J. Gehring Best Postdoc Abstract Award winner Scott Auerbach. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

It was a record-setting year at the Society of Toxicology (SOT) 48th Annual Meeting in Baltimore March 15-19 - both for SOT itself and for NIEHS and top-level sponsor the National Toxicology Program (NTP). NIEHS and NTP rolled out their largest exhibit ever and showcased new Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., a major NTP initiative and a range of continuing and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding opportunities (see related "Extramural Update").

SOT ( Exit NIEHS reports that first day registrations hit a record of 6,671 participants for the five days that included an unprecedented 27 symposia, 19 workshops, 14 roundtables, and six keynote and named lectures - many of them featuring scientists and students with ties to NIEHS programs. The SOT Annual Meeting is the major professional development forum for the scientists of NIEHS and the NTP, as well as for Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP) and other extramural program grantees worldwide. One of those NIEHS grantees, SOT President Ken Ramos, Ph.D., who served as chair of this year's meeting, is also a member of the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council.

Current and former NIEHS grantees ( Exit NIEHS received awards at the meeting. SBRP trainee Courtney Kozul (see related Spotlight story) and NTP Postdoctoral Fellow Scott Auerbach, Ph.D., were also honored (see textbox).

A "Meet the NIEHS Director" session drew a capacity audience to hear Birnbaum speak on March 18, as the new NIEHS and NTP leader - a toxicologist and former president of SOT - outlined her vision for the Institute in a time of great challenges and opportunities. Toxicologists were naturally eager to hear how one of their own will guide NIEHS research and funding priorities in the months and years ahead.

NTP scientists Paul Foster, Ph.D., and Dori Germolec, Ph.D., were featured speakers for the March 17 NTP Exhibitor Hosted Session "NTP Criteria for Hazard Identification in Non-Cancer Studies." (") Exit NIEHS They explained how NTP plans to predict developmental, reproductive and immune system challenges of chemicals with more subtle, but significant functional and biological pathway effects - offering the public and regulatory agencies a clearer and more comprehensive estimate of the health risks they may pose.

Two events were of special interest to current and potential grantees - an NIH Brown Bag Lunch on March 17 and two full days of walk-in and appointment opportunities for one-on-one discussions with NIEHS grant administrators. Staff from the NIH Center for Scientific Review joined NIEHS grant administrators at the lunch on March 17 to field questions about the review process and grant opportunities, including those newly available through the ARRA.

NTP Deputy Program Director for Science Nigel Walker, Ph.D., entered the nanotechnology fray as the SOT scientific delegate at the annual debate on March 16 arguing the proposition "Nanotoxicology Is NOT Much Ado About Nothing" with European Societies of Toxicology (EUROTOX) delegate Kai Savolainen, Ph.D., of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Healthreceives. Walker and Savolainen will give an encore performance of their encounter at the 46th Congress of EUROTOX in Dresden, Germany September 13-16.

NIEHS and NTP investigators and program officers led no fewer than 24 sessions, ranging from educational and career development to platform and symposium sessions. Nearly 60 poster displays featured the research of NIEHS and NTP senior scientists and trainees.

Along with her own luncheon session and posters, Birnbaum also had a chance to see the fruits of her labors as a mentor. On March 18, Birnbaum was recognized as the sponsor of trainee Michele La Merrill (see related story), who received the Award for Best Manuscript at the Meeting from the Occupational and Public Health Specialty Section (OPHSS).

NTP's Auerbach Wins Prestigious SOT Poster Award

NTP Toxicology Branch (")Fellow Scott Auerbach, one of NTP's three postdoctoral fellows, won the SOT Risk Assessment Specialty Section Perry J. Gehring Best Postdoc Abstract Award. Auerbach was selected for the award by a panel of judges chaired by Elaine Faustman, Ph.D. (") Exit NIEHS after submitting an extended description of the data presented in his poster, which detailed the research observations and their relevance to hazard characterization. The award is funded by an endowment to honor the legacy of Perry J. Gehring, D.V.M., Ph.D., who served as SOT president in 1980-1981. It consists of a $500 check to Auerbach and achievement plaques for him and his advisor, NTP Senior Toxicologist Richard D. Irwin, Ph.D.

Auerbach was lead author on the study "Independent validation of gene expression based hepatocarcinogenicity prediction models," which was part of the Bioinformatics and Prediction of Toxicity Poster Session on March 17. Co-authors included SRI statisticians Deepak Mav, Ph.D., and Ruchir Shah, Ph.D., Biologist Molly Vallant, NTP Deputy Program Director for Science Nigel Walker, Ph.D., retired NTP Pathologist Gary Boorman, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Irwin.

This award is Auerbach's second in less than a year. In October, he won a North Carolina Society of Toxicology (NCSOT) President's Award for Research Competition. (") Auerbach began his NIEHS career as a fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Respiratory Biology, where he worked until transferring to the NTP in 2007.

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