Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

April 2017

Award-winning contributions highlighted at Society of Toxicology meeting

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.)


  • Richardson accepts award
    Richardson, right, accepts the SOT Achievement Award from Mary Beth Genter, Ph.D., SOT councilor and faculty member at University of Cincinnati. (Photo courtesy of SOT)
  • Dana Dolinoy speaks
    “I have been fortunate to be able to study the molecular mechanisms underlying environmentally induced disease risk,” Dolinoy said. “I am truly thankful for the outstanding mentorship I have received.” (Photo courtesy of SOT)
  • Foster presents award to Allen
    Foster, left, presented the Enhancement of Animal Welfare Award to Allen, a lead researcher for the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods support contract. (Photo courtesy of SOT)
  • Auerbach and colleagues win
    Auerbach and colleagues won first place for their abstract that described efforts to refine the BMDExpress 2.0 software, to make results more specific and reproducible. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)
  • Hussain accepts award
    Hussain, right, accepted the Nanotoxicology Specialty Section Best Publication Award from section president Robert Tanguay, Ph.D., from Oregon State University. (Photo courtesy of Salik Hussain)
  • Panlilio and Tyson discuss research
    Panlilio, right, and NIEHS program officer Fred Tyson, Ph.D., discussed her award-winning research about domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by some harmful algal blooms. (Photo courtesy of Fred Tyson)
  • Nicklisch at booth
    Nicklisch and co-authors of his award-winning paper want to understand what makes some chemicals persist in the environment, so that these properties can be avoided when chemicals are designed. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Guidry)

Women in Toxicology supports Birnbaum

When NIEHS and NTP director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., accepted the 2017 Distinguished Toxicology Scholar award, it was thanks in part to a nomination from WIT, which Birnbaum helped to start.

“Some of you may even recall our first informal planning meeting in New Orleans in 1999, when no one was sure how many people would show up,” said Birnbaum in taped remarks, thanking WIT members for their support. “More than 100 people came! That was great, and it was clear that Women in Toxicology was here to stay.”

Birnbaum said she helped to found WIT because women were not getting SOT leadership positions or major awards. Now four of the last thirteen SOT presidents have been women, including Birnbaum. She considers that evidence of progress, but said there is still more work to do toward pay equality with men and having more women in senior science positions.

“We all need to encourage more women and minorities to enter the science career pipeline,” said Birnbaum. “We have to help them to reach the highest levels by making it possible to balance the competing demands of work with their personal lives. If we to stand up for what we believe, and for your science, and we’ll continue to make progress.”

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