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Your Environment. Your Health.

Internationally Known Scientist Named NIEHS Deputy Director; His Work May Help Control AIDS, Environment-Related Diseases

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

News Release

Archive - New Contact Information

For more information about this archival news release, please contact Christine Flowers, Director, Office of Communications & Public Liaison at (919) 541-3665.
Wednesday, May 8, 1996, 12:00 p.m. EDT
Contact: Tom Hawkins, NIEHS
(919) 541-1402

Samuel H. Wilson, M.D., an internationally known scientist in environmental toxicology, will join the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., as Deputy Director.

NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., announced the appointment yesterday. At NIEHS, Dr. Wilson will have day-to-day responsibility for helping Dr. Olden administer the institute. The NIEHS has an annual budget and pass-through funds from other federal agencies of approximately $365 million and a scientific and support staff of more than 850.

Dr. Wilson's work has included pioneering basic research on DNA polymerase-enzymes which are responsible for the replication and repair of DNA, the chemical of heredity. This work may lead to drugs that can control the replication of cancerous and HIV-infected cells.

Dr. Wilson is currently at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He is the founding director of the Sealy Center for Molecular Science, holds the Mary Gibbs Jones Distinguished Chair in Environmental Toxicology, serves as Director of the Centennial Center for Environmental Toxicology, and is a Professor in the Department of Human Biological Chemistry and Genetics.

Dr. Olden noted that when Dr. Wilson joins NIEHS at the end of the summer he will be returning to the "NIH family." He spent 24 years at the National Institutes of Health, beginning in 1968 as a postdoctoral fellow at what is now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. In 1970, he became a research scientist in the Laboratory of Biochemistry at the National Cancer Institute, and was chief of its nucleic acid enzymology section when he moved to the University of Texas. "With the appointment of Dr. Wilson, the Institute is gaining an outstanding researcher and science administrator", Dr. Olden said.

Dr. Wilson received his M.D. at Harvard Medical School in 1968 and received postdoctoral training at Dartmouth Medical School as well as at NIH.

Dr. Wilson and his wife have four children.

(Sidebar with Wilson appointment)


The basic research for which Samuel H. Wilson, M.D., newly appointed NIEHS Deputy Director, has been responsible has been on DNA polymerase-an area little known by the general public but one that may permit drugs to be designed to control the replication of cancerous and HIV-infected cells.

Mutations resulting from environmental chemicals and radiation also may eventually be controlled through a better understanding of DNA repair and synthesis.

In the early 1970's, Dr. Wilson and his associates were among the first to discover that mammalian cells contain more than one DNA polymerase. Later they showed that the multiple enzymes acting on the DNA represent the products of different genes.

Isolation of a mammalian gene for a DNA polymerase was first achieved in Dr. Wilson's laboratory in 1985, and in 1988 Dr. Wilson and his colleagues reported manufacture of large amounts of the DNA polymerase using recombinant DNA technology. Studies of this enzyme, DNA polymerase B (Greek beta) have intensified following the availability of abundant supply, along with antibody and nucleic acid probes introduced by Dr. Wilson's group.

Dr. Wilson and his collaborators recently elucidated the molecular structures of rat and human DNA polymerase B (Greek beta) using NMR spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography and other techniques, and the group also has begun to study the intracellular signalling systems through which expression of the gene for DNA polymerase B (Greek beta) is controlled in humans. The group also has developed a mouse gene deletion model for study of the biological role of DNA polymerase B (Greek beta) in the DNA repair process know as base excision repair.

In 1988, Dr. Wilson began studies of the HIV-1 reverse transcriptase. As with cellular DNA polymerase B (Greek beta), the group manufactured large amounts of the reverse transcriptase and proceeded to identify regions on the surface of the enzyme that are potential targets for new drugs: A substrate-binding site; and a protein:protein interaction region involved in subunit-binding.

Highlights of his advances in the field include first studies on:

  • Surveying the assembling of DNA polymerases in the mammalian cell (1974)
  • The complete purification of mammalian polymerases (1975, 1979)
  • Identifying mammalian polymerases through peptide mapping (1979)
  • Characterizing polymerase activity using steady-state kinetics (1979) and activity gel stain (1983)
  • Use of monoclonal antibody to identify polymerases in crude cell extracts (1984)
  • Molecular cDNA cloning (1985)
  • DNA polymerase processivity by sequencing gels (1982).

All of these areas were pioneered by Dr.Wilson's research team and now are widely used approaches in the study of DNA polymerases.

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