Toxicology and public health merge at SOT conference in San Diego
By Robin Mackar
Visionary biologist J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., presented the opening lecture at the annual Society of Toxicology meeting, setting the stage for an outstanding conference by providing a forward-looking focus for the field of toxicology. NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) scientists and staff brought a public health perspective to many meeting events, through presentations, posters, countless informal talks, and meetings with prospective grantees and other scientists.
Venter’s talk, “Life at the Speed of Light,” zeroed in on the process of using genotype, or genetic makeup, to predict phenotype, or observable characteristics or traits. He also highlighted new developments, from understanding the human genome to synthetic genomics, the process of creating DNA from chemicals. Venter, head of the J. Craig Venter Institute, inspired the thousands who attended the March 22-26 meeting in San Diego.
New vision for toxicological testing
In the spirit of moving research forward, NIEHS and NTP hosted a workshop, The U.S. Tox21Collaboration: Advances Made and Lessons Learned. The standing-room-only session featured introductory remarks by NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and Robert Kavlock, Ph.D., deputy assistant administrator for science in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development.
Before introducing the speakers, Birnbaum presented Tox21 milestones, including the fact that all the data is publicly available. She also outlined some of the program’s benefits. “Tox21 is a federal multiagency collaboration that is transforming the way we approach toxicology and is contributing to improved public health,” Birnbaum said. The speakers that followed shared findings that reinforced her message.
Grants and training opportunities
In addition to presenting new findings through hundreds of posters and sessions, NIEHS staff, especially those from the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), spent time talking to prospective grantees and others about grant and training opportunities. DERT staffed a Research Funding Information Room for two full days, giving attendees an opportunity to network and learn more about available opportunities. Another event, the Research Funding Luncheon: Multiple Perspectives on the Grant Process, held Monday, March 23, also provided time for new investigators to meet program staff and learn about the NIH grants process.
Three new funding opportunity announcements, collectively called the Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR), were the subject of a webinar that NIEHS hosted during the conference. CHEAR will provide researchers access to laboratory and statistical analyses services, so they can add new children’s health environmental exposure studies to current research, or expand studies already underway. Applications for the three CHEAR announcements are due April 30, 2015.
Meet the directors
SOT Vice President Peter Goering, Ph.D., served as master of ceremonies during the Meet the Directors session on Monday afternoon. Through informal dialogue with Birnbaum and Jim Jones, assistant administrator of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the directors were able to discuss the missions of their agencies, highlight new directions, and respond to questions from the audience.
Birnbaum highlighted the CHEAR program and encouraged qualified participants to apply and to spread the word. She also encouraged people to share the news about the search for a new editor in chief of the NIEHS-supported journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
One of the questions asked of Birnbaum was whether or too many Ph.D.’s are now being trained. She responded that it isn’t a question of training too many, but that the training needs to be done differently, emphasizing that those seeking higher degrees need to be cross-trained, giving them broader perspectives and opportunities to meet workforce demands.
(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)