Toxicology at OSU celebrates 50 years

Bill Baird and Jim Witt, both researchers in the department of environmental and molecular toxicology, chat during a reception celebrating OSU's 50 year involvement in toxicology. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Even though the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology has only officially been in existence for less than two decades, toxicology has been the primary scientific focus of many researchers, instructors and students on campus for 50 years.

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the Society for Toxicology, the main professional society for toxicologists, and although OSU’s Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology is only 20 years old, the Toxicology program at OSU has also been existence for nearly 50 years.

The department held a celebration of OSU’s 50-year involvement in toxicology with a reception on Nov. 22.

“It’s nice for students to get a chance to meet the forefathers in the field,” said department chair Craig Marcus.

A number of invited guests attended the event, including some OSU emeritus faculty and staff who have been at the forefront of the field of toxicology. Don Reed was a biochemistry graduate student in the late 1950s who returned to Oregon State in 1962 to teach in biochemistry and biophysics. His area of research was in the biomechanical mechanisms that protect a person from harmful physical and chemical agents.

Much of his early work focused on propellants, and was funded by grants from the Air Force. He later headed the Environmental Health Sciences Center at OSU and was the initial director of the Linus Pauling Institute.

Reed said the advent of the mass spectrometer as a tool for studying the function of cells was a major advance in his field, especially when it came to isolating proteins and sequencing them.

Don Reed graduated from OSU in the 1950s and came back to teach biochemistry and biophysics in 1962. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Bill Baird has been involved in toxicology research at OSU since 1997. He came to the university from Purdue because OSU has one of the best toxicology centers around. Baird’s area of focus is polycyclic hydrocarbons and how they cause cancer, particularly those in the atmosphere and in cigarette smoke. Currently he’s working with several students on how components found in raspberries might prevent that type of cancer.

“We feel like we’re making real progress,” Baird said.

Cancer is a major focus of researchers in the department. Don Buhler’s work on how flavonoids in hops might fight cancer has raised hopes that beer might have more beneficial aspects than previously thought. And Richard Scanlan’s work on cancer-causing nitrosamines has revealed much about how they form and how to measure and reduce their levels.

George Bailey and Jerry Hendricks, both still active researchers, led research on cancer using rainbow trout as a model for humans, which has receive international recognition, and changed the way carcinogens are assessed in laboratory animals.  And Dave Williams current work on epigenetics has shown that exposure of a fetus to common carcinogens during the last stages of pregnancy can be even more harmful than exposure after birth.

Most recently, Oregon State has been chosen as the home of a new Superfund Basic Research Center Program, which brings a $12.4 million grant to the university to study the health risks and impacts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons commonly found in air and water pollution.

The new Superfund program is just the latest major accomplishment of the OSU Toxicology Program, and will directly support many of the researchers in the EMT department. It paves the way for another 50 years of ground-breaking, potentially life-saving work being done each day in the field of toxicology at OSU.

Comments are closed.