MIT Reports to the President 1996-97


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, Bevin Engelward, John M. Essigmann, Ram Sasisekharan, David B. Schauer, Steven R. Tannenbaum, William G. Thilly, and Gerald N. Wogan. 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 Ph.D. or S.M. 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 the 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 comprehensive written and oral examinations, usually administered in the fourth term of study, students must submit and defend a thesis proposal not later than three semesters later. Thesis committees are comprised of three to five faculty members from the Division of Toxicology as well as other departments of M.I.T., Harvard or other institutions as required by the nature of the doctoral thesis research.


Specific efforts to recruit members of underrepresented minority groups are made at several levels. In the context of general recruiting efforts, all notices and other documents clearly state the M.I.T. 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 M.I.T. Minority Summer Science Research Program (MITSSRP). 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 M.I.T. 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 MITSSRP since its inception. This has proven to be an effective recruitment path, as approximately one-half of our current and formerly enrolled minority doctoral candidates were Summer Program interns before joining the Division. Unfortunately, only one intern was assigned to the Division of Toxicology in 1996 and 1997 due to the number of faculty throughout the Institute who volunteered to be MITSSRP mentors. 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 frequently involved in minority recruitment activities outside of M.I.T. Recent examples include attendance at the NIGMS Minority Programs Symposium, the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Conferences, and personal visits to colleges that enroll large numbers of minority students in order to meet with prospective applicants and to develop contact with faculty members of science departments. Over the years, visits have been paid to Cayey College, the University of Puerto Rico and campuses of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (e.g., Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, and Georgia Tech). During 1995, Prof. William G. Thilly and Ms. LaCreis R. Kidd visited the latter campuses. In addition, Prof. Gerald N. Wogan participated in a minority recruiting symposium held in conjunction with the Society of Toxicology annual meeting in March, 1996. In July of 1996, M.I.T. hosted the 3-day National Minority Undergraduate Research Symposium. Prof. Peter C. Dedon, the Toxicology Graduate Admissions/Registration Officer, along with two graduate students from his lab group, met with interested Symposium attendees, distributed literature, and participated in poster sessions. Most recently, Prof. David B. Schauer has been actively involved in recruiting under-represented minority students to the Division of Toxicology. In January of 1995, he attended the SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) Conference in El Paso, Texas. Among other Conference activities, Prof. Schauer staffed an Exhibit Booth in order to meet with and distribute Division literature to potential applicants. In October of 1996, Prof. Schauer represented the Division and M.I.T. at the SACNAS Conference held in Los Angeles, Ca. In future years it is expected that these activities will continue to play an important part of the Division's recruiting efforts.

Two new minority students will join the Division in Fall, 1997. Cecilia Fernandez earned the B.A. Degree in biology from Boston University and Jose Marquez was an undergraduate in Civil & Environmental Engineering at M.I.T. In addition, there are four continuing students. Pablo Herrero was an undergraduate in Chemical Engineering at M.I.T. before joining the Division. Curtis Glover earned his B.S. degree in chemistry and biology at Cheney University of Pennsylvania and J. Christopher Goodwin attended the University of Maryland at Baltimore as a biology major. Jacquin Niles earned the S.B. degree in Chemistry at M.I.T. and is enrolled in the Toxicology Ph.D. program which he will complete in conjunction with the M.D./Ph.D. program at Harvard Medical School.

Two minority students recently completed their doctoral work. LaCreis R. Kidd was awarded the Ph.D. degree in June, 1997 and she has accepted a postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkin University School of Public Health. Deirdre Lawrence successfully defended her Ph.D. Thesis in Summer, 1997 and has been selected for a National Cancer Institute Cancer Prevention Fellowship. As a participant in this program, Ms. Lawrence will enroll in a Master's degree program at the Harvard School of Public Health in September. Upon completion of the S.M. degree, she will then conduct postdoctoral research for N.C.I.

Efforts to recruit members of underrepresented minorities into the Toxicology program are being conducted in coordination with institutional programs with similar objectives within M.I.T. For example, the Division is one of four academic units at M.I.T. participating in the Sloan Foundation Fellowship program which provides financial assistance to support the recruitment and funding of new minority graduate students. Both of our incoming new students, Ms. Fernandez and Mr. Marquez, will be supported as Sloan Foundation Fellows during their first year of graduate study. These efforts have been developed with the support of and in consultation with Isaac M. Colbert, Senior Associate Dean and Margaret D. Tyler, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of M.I.T. for minority student affairs.


One new faculty member has been identified for appointment to the Division for the coming year. Dr. James Sherley will join us in the Spring Semester of 1998 when the renovation of the Building 16 space is complete.

Dr. Sherley received his B.A. degree in Biology from Harvard University in 1980, and his M.D. and Ph.D. (Molecular Biology) from Johns Hopkins in 1988. This was followed by a postdoctoral period at Princeton University from 1988-1991 and then his position at Fox Chase Cancer Center from 1991 to the present. Throughout this period he received several awards and fellowships. His doctoral research dealt with defining the mechanisms involved in regulating the levels of replication proteins during the cell cycle with particular emphasis on human thymidine kinase. His postdoctoral research focused on the tumor suppressor p53 in which he developed novel approaches to understanding its biological function. He continued this work on p53 in his move to Fox Chase, where he observed that modest activation of p53 slows growth of cells that are growing exponentially. The new growth rate is linear, and the behavior of the cells shows the features of renewal growth, suggesting that increased p53 expression might effect a switch from symmetric to asymmetric cell division. This is very exciting because such switching genes must be critical for development, and because the multiple somatic events that are necessary for cancer in epithelial tissues can only accumulate in cells that both divide and have long lives.


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

Prof. John M. Essigmann was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in the Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program, "in recognition of sustained and significant contributions to teaching and undergraduate education in the Institute". He also was awarded the 1996 School of Science Teaching Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

Prof. Steven R. Tannenbaum was awarded the Underwood-Prescott Professorship and was elected as a member to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Ram Sasisekharan was appointed to the Editorial Board of the new journal Angiogenesis.

Mr. Jinghai Xu, a doctoral candidate in Toxicology working with Prof. Peter C. Dedon was awarded the Whitaker Health Sciences Fellowship for 1996-97 and 1997-98, which is awarded to one doctoral student in Life Sciences or Bioengineering annually.

Ms. Cecilia Fernandez, a doctoral candidate in Toxicology who is conducting her thesis research with Prof. Bevin Engelward and Mr. Jose Marquez, a Master's candidate with Prof. William G. Thilly, have been awarded Sloan Fellowships for the 1997-1998 academic year. These fellowships are intended to provide support for minority students, and are competitively awarded by Dean Isaac Colbert, of the Graduate Education Office.

Ms. Sophie Currier has been awarded an Ida Green Fellowship. This competitive award provides tuition and a stipend for the 1997-98 academic year. Ms Currier is an S.M. candidate in Prof. John M. Essigmann's lab.

Ms. Aoy Tomita was one of two recipients honored with the Poitras Fellowship for graduate students conducting research in the biomedical sciences. This prestigious fellowship includes tuition and stipend for the academic year, 1997-98.

More information about the Division of Toxicology can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:

Steven R. Tannenbaum

MIT Reports to the President 1996-97