MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Division of Toxicology

The Division of Toxicology is an academic unit of the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology. Its major educational activity is the operation of a graduate degree program leading to S.M./Ph.D. degrees in toxicology. Teaching as well as research programs emphasize mechanisms through which chemical and physical agents in the environment induce toxicity and pathogenesis.

The objective of the programs of the Division is to train scientists who will be professionally qualified to make research contributions to improve understanding of the impacts of hazardous chemicals and other environmental agents on human health, and to educate future generations of scientists with similar interests and qualifications. Special emphasis is placed on development and application of in vivo and in vitro experimental models and approaches designed ultimately to elucidate, in cellular and molecular terms, mechanisms through which such agents induce their adverse effects. Strong emphasis is placed on the development, validation and application of methodology for detection and characterization of adverse effects that will improve assessment of hazards to humans resulting from environmental exposures. Utilizing biochemical, chemical and biological approaches, the training of pre- and post-doctoral trainees is concerned with: characterization of effects of toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals at intact animal, tissue, cellular and molecular levels; development of methods for the detection and quantification of such effects in humans, experimental animals, and other experimental systems; studies of metabolic activation, macromolecular binding and genetic effects; and elucidation of modes of action at cellular and molecular levels.


Faculty members whose primary academic affiliations are in the Division include Professors Peter C. Dedon, John M. Essigmann, Steven R. Tannenbaum, David B. Schauer, William G. Thilly, Gerald N. Wogan, and Helmut Zarbl. Dr. James G. Fox, director of the Division of Comparative Medicine also is a Professor in the Division of Toxicology. Professors Essigmann, Tannenbaum and Wogan hold joint appointments in the Department of Chemistry. Professor Thilly also serves as Director, and other Toxicology faculty form the nucleus of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences in Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology.


The Division offers a graduate degree program leading to PhD or SM degrees in Toxicology. The curriculum is designed to provide rigorous training in basic sciences, with particular emphasis on graduate subjects in biochemistry, molecular biology and genetics as well as toxicology. Graduates of the doctoral program follow career paths in academic, industrial or governmental organizations requiring applications of modern methods of chemical, molecular biological and genetic analysis to research related to evaluation of risks associated with chemical exposures. The scope of both educational and research programs encompasses subject matter pertinent to activities of chemical, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and food industries, as well as to governmental regulatory and research agencies.

Students admitted into the degree program pursue a series of required and elective subjects that ordinarily require three semesters to complete. Following successful completion of a written comprehensive examination, usually administered in the fourth term of study, students must submit and defend a thesis proposal not later than three semesters later. Presentation and defense of the thesis proposal to a thesis committee constitutes the oral portion of the doctoral examination. Thesis committees are comprised of three to five faculty members from the Division of Toxicology as well as other departments of MIT, Harvard or other institutions as required by the nature of the doctoral thesis research.


Specific efforts to recruit members of under-represented minority groups are made at several levels. In the context of general recruiting efforts, all notices and other documents clearly state the MIT and program commitment to recruitment of minority candidates. Additional recruiting efforts include internships, faculty visits, conferences, mailings and informal networking by current minority trainees.

An important and most fruitful avenue of contact with prospective minority students has been through the MIT Minority Summer Science Research Program. This program was initiated in 1986 as an institutional effort to address the issue of under-representation of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in mathematics and the physical and biological sciences in the United States. The Summer Science Program is designed to provide opportunities for talented minority sophomores and juniors to spend a summer on the MIT campus working in an active research program under the guidance of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students. The Toxicology faculty have consistently been active participants in the Summer Program since its inception; during the summer of 1994, five Toxicology faculty sponsored interns. This has proven to be an effective recruitment path, as four of our currently enrolled minority doctoral candidates were Summer Program interns before joining the Division. Three of seven students admitted for the 1995-96 academic year are members of under-represented minority groups, and two of the three were MITSSRP interns in the summer of 1994. The Summer Science Program interns receive advice and information about graduate study directly from their Faculty Sponsors, laboratory supervisors and the Division Academic Administrator.

Toxicology faculty are also involved in minority recruitment activities outside of MIT. At approximately annual intervals, at least one faculty member personally visits campuses of colleges that enroll large numbers of minority students in order to meet with prospective applicants and to develop contacts with faculty members of science departments. Visits have been paid to Cayey College, the science school of the University of Puerto Rico as well as the campuses of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (e.g., Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Georgia Tech) in the US over the past several years.

Five minority students are currently enrolled as doctoral candidates in the Division. LaCreis Kidd and Deirdre Lawrence both received their undergraduate training in Biology at Spelman College in Atlanta. Donald Brunson attended Morgan State (Baltimore, MD) as a Chemistry major. Esequiel Barrera earned his bachelor's degree in Biology at University of California, Irvine. Paula Lee was in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT as an undergraduate before joining the Division of Toxicology. Three doctoral candidates (Brunson, Kidd and Lawrence) have passed the doctoral examinations and are engaged in thesis research projects. Brunson is nearing completion of his thesis research and Kidd and Lawrence expect to complete theirs within twelve to eighteen months.

Toxicology students have represented our graduate program at several schools and meetings, including the annual Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and Ford Fellows meetings. Indeed, one student (Lawrence) who was supported by the Ford Foundation program has also served on the planning committee of that program. One African American student (Brunson) has spoken to groups of minority science students at Lincoln University, Morgan State University, and at the Beta Kappa Chi National Honor Society Annual Meeting over a period of five years. Further, a Hispanic graduate student in the Division (Barerra) has been an enthusiastic MIT/Toxicology representative at the annual meeting of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) whose mission is to encourage its students to obtain graduate degrees in the sciences in order to pursue advanced research and teaching careers. A Toxicology faculty member also attended the January, 1995 SACNAS Conference. As a direct result of these efforts, a student who attended the conference applied and was accepted into the 1995 MITSSRP program.

These efforts to recruit members of under-represented minorities into the Toxicology program are being conducted in coordination with institutional programs with similar objectives within MIT. Current efforts as well as those proposed for the future have been developed with the support of and in consultation with Isaac M. Colbert, Associate Dean and Margaret D. Tyler, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of MIT for minority student affairs. Further coordination of the Toxicology activities with other institutional initiatives is fostered by the continuing participation of the Program Director, G. N. Wogan, as a member of the MIT Equal Opportunities Committee, whose responsibilities include development of institutional initiatives relating to minority recruiting at all levels.


Over the past several years, MIT has placed particular emphasis on the need to address the issue of ethical research conduct. In May, 1991, the President and Provost appointed a Committee on Academic Responsibility. The Committee was charged to: (a) review the current situation with respect to the community values in connection with the conduct of academic research; (b) review existing policies and procedures in connection with the conduct of research in view of the values held by the MIT community; (c) compare existing MIT policies and procedures with guidelines and regulations of federal and private research sponsors; and (d) suggest innovative education and mentoring programs directed towards raising the consciousness of our community concerning issues associated with the conduct of research and also propose mentoring programs related to faculty career development. The report of the Committee, entitled "Fostering Academic Integrity" was published on April 15, 1992 and distributed to the MIT community. This document is among several that have been used in training activities related to responsible conduct of research within the Division of Toxicology.

As in previous years, the faculty organized a half-day convocation in September, 1994, to foster discussion of ethical conduct in science to all of those involved in research within the Division, including graduate students, undergraduates, technical staff, and postdoctoral associates. Attendance by predoctoral candidates and postdoctoral associates was mandatory, and other staff personnel were encouraged to participate. The 1994 Colloquium was well-attended, with a total of 86 participants. In addition, all faculty members of the Division attended, as did Dr. Stephanie Bird, Special Assistant to the Associate Provost at MIT, who has had extensive experience in establishing ethics training programs.

Prof. John Essigmann led the first hour of the program, during which participants offered suggestions of topics relevant to responsible conduct of research. Seven topics were then selected for further discussion by small groups, which were led by Division faculty. The issues were as follows: policies concerning authorship of research publications; arbitration versus autocracy in research management; record keeping and disclosure; fraud, fabrication and falsification of data; plagiarism; confidentiality; and laboratory safety and hygiene. Participants met in small groups over lunch to discuss these issues, after which the entire group reconvened in plenary session. A spokesperson from each group presented a summary of consensus statements from their discussions, which were then opened for further consideration by all participants. Dr. Bird presented an overall assessment of the program and offered suggestions for future Colloquia. Evaluation forms were completed by most participants, and the general reaction to the meeting was quite positive.


The following honors and awards were accorded to faculty and students of the Division during the current academic year.

Dr. Kevin Yarema, who completed his doctoral thesis as a student in Prof. Essigmann's research group, received a $10,000 Dissertation/Thesis Summary Award from the Drug Information Association, and was made an honorary member of the Association.

Prof. John M. Essigmann was nominated for the Baker Foundation Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. Prof. Essigmann received this accolade on the basis of the outstanding rating by students in 5.07, which he also developed.

Prof. Gerald N. Wogan was elected to the Institute of Medicine. Prof. Wogan also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Illinois.

Ms. Laura Kennedy was the recipient of and Ida Green Fellowship.

Ms. LaCreis Kidd, a student in Professor Tannenbaum's research group, continued to receive a fellowship from the Minorities Access to Research Careers (MARC) program of the National Institutes of Health.

Ms. Deirdre Lawrence, a member of Professor Wogan's group, continues to be supported through the Minority Supplement Program of NIH.

Mr. Esequiel Barrera, a student in Professor Essigmann's group, received support from a National Research Service Award for Minority Students.

Gerald N. Wogan

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95