On the trail of aflatoxin Toxicologist Gerald Wogan has dedicated his career to understanding — and fighting — a deadly carcinogen.
In the spring of 1960, a mysterious liver disease killed hundreds of thousands of turkeys in the United Kingdom. The outbreak was soon traced to ground peanut meal, shipped from Brazil and contaminated with mold that produces a poison known as aflatoxin.
At the time, little was known about aflatoxin, but some scientists suspected it could be linked to liver cancer in humans. Soon after the U.K. outbreak, a young MIT toxicologist named Gerald Wogan launched a thorough, decades-long investigation into the toxin, eventually exposing it as one of the most potent carcinogens humans can encounter.
Throughout his career, Wogan not only made discoveries illuminating aflatoxin’s role in liver cancer, which kills about 600,000 people a year, but he also used his knowledge to shape food-safety regulations in the United States and Europe, and helped develop new measures that could fight liver cancer in developing countries, where aflatoxin exposure is still common.
“A lot of people are content to do basic science, but he picked up that mantle of responsibility and went right into the regulatory arena,” says John Essigmann, MIT professor of toxicology and chemistry and a former student of Wogan’s. more>>