On behalf of the Mechanisms Specialty Section, I would like to extend my profound thanks to Bob Snyder for taking on the task of documenting the history of our Section. Bob was one of the founding members of the Mechanisms Section. His willingness to perform this task has provided an important link for current and future members to our past. It also serves as a reminder as to how important it is to look forward and to be willing to embrace new ideas. Without the foresight of Bob and others in SOT at that time, we would not be enjoying the success of today.
Finally, if anyone has additional information to complete areas that are missing, or to correct or add new items, please send them to Bob Rsnyder@eohsi.rutgers.edu or myself email@example.com.
Upon accepting the role of Historian of the Mechanisms Section I returned to my laboratory and began looking up the records of the early years. Unfortunately, I have made two major moves since the Section was formed and those records, if they exist anywhere, are lost to me. Luckily, Carl Smith kept detailed records and his wife, Tee, has provided me with a wealth of information with which to make my first contribution. It is with fond memories of Carl and my thanks to Tee, that I submit this report.
The Mechanisms Section was the first specialty section established in the Society of Toxicology. Specialty Sections developed out of discussions that began in the late 1970's, primarily among SOT member who served on the Toxicology Study Section. Whereas Toxicology had been a discipline mainly associated with describing the adverse effects of chemicals, which was a process essential to the drug and chemical industries, the Toxicology Study Section was reviewing grant applications aimed at studying the mechanisms by which chemicals produced their toxic effects. They felt that more emphasis should be placed on mechanistic research in Toxicology and wished to form a division within the society to accomplish that goal. Although there was initial objection to establishing subgroups within the society which might disrupt unity within the discipline, the SOT Council, in its wisdom, took a broader view by recognizing that the society was growing rapidly and there was room for toxicologists with many different interests under our umbrella. As a result a task force was established and a group of us met in association with a Council meeting at which time we drew up a change in the SOT Bylaws to permit the development of both Specialty Sections and Regional Chapters. The Mechanisms Section was established and started business in 1982–83. The officers of the Mechanisms Section from 1982 through 1998 are shown on the Officers page. Most of these people continue to be active in Mechanism Section affairs and some have gone on to become officers of SOT.
The Mechanisms Section’s goal was to foster the study of mechanisms of action by which chemicals cause their toxic effects. Obviously the continued strength and productivity of those doing descriptive toxicology was essential to provide the problems for study. There is never enough mechanistic toxicology to work on all of the problems developed by descriptive toxicology. Furthermore, as mechanisms are uncovered and techniques used to study mechanisms expand, they tend to be taken up and used in descriptive toxicology. For example, for a number of years the study of the role of CYP450 in the metabolism of chemicals was an exotic activity. Today it is necessary to study the role of individual CYP450s in the metabolism of each newly developed chemical.
Several strategies were selected to enhance the ability of the Section to carry out its goals. One of the first was to make available a series of awards for excellence in mechanistic research by graduate students. During the very earliest discussion on the formation of the Section I asked Carl Smith if he would take on the job of organizing and selecting the award winners. I had known Carl since we met at the Institute of Toxicology at the University of Tübingen, in 1971, when I was on Sabbatical leave and he came to deliver a seminar. He had an excellent scientific reputation and came from the University of Cincinnati which had one of the few graduate programs in Toxicology at that time. In retrospect, it was one of best personnel choices I have ever made. Carl established a mechanism for making the awards, selected committees to judge the student submissions, and, with Tee taking photos, presided over presenting the awards. The efforts of Carl Smith are largely responsible for the success that the Mechanisms Section has enjoyed until his untimely death. As new people take on the charge of making the awards they should be guided by Carl’s example of demanding excellence in science on the one hand and in providing a nurturing atmosphere to graduate students on the other.
The table on the Awards page shows the Graduate Student Award Winners from 1982–1998. The records are complete except for K.D. Hajek. If anyone has any knowledge of her please let me know to enable us to complete the record. I have not listed each of the honorable mention awardees. The total number of awards presented is more than 187, of which 113 have now become members of SOT. Some are at the postdoctoral stage in their careers, others are beginning their careers in earnest and still others have advanced to senior positions. In a series of letters sent to Carl and Tee in 1997, a number of awardees expressed their pride in having been selected and their appreciation for the award. They report that the award had a significant impact on their careers and instilled in them an appreciation for the role of mechanistic research in Toxicology.
The Mechanisms Section has also sponsored a series of symposia at SOT meetings. Table 3 shows a list of symposia sponsored , or co-sponsored, by the Mechanisms Section at the annual SOT meeting. It is not clear that this is a complete listing because some of the early documentation may be lacking. However, what emerges is the recognition that since its founding the Mechanisms Section has made major contributions to the excellence of the annual meeting by presenting to the membership symposia concerned with the latest findings in mechanistic toxicology. These symposia presented the chemistry and biology which underlie the discipline of Toxicology.
The history of the Mechanisms Section, while, on the surface, is of parochial interest only to its members, it is also a history of the dramatic changes that have occurred in Toxicology over the last 20–30 years. In the early 1970's a group of acronyms, i.e., EPA, OSHA, NIOSH, NIEHS, etc., appeared which created an immediate need to employ toxicologists who would carry out the mandates of these organizations. At one point there was a call for 2,000 toxicologists at a time when the entire membership of SOT did not exceed 500. Among the results was an increase in the number of Toxicology training programs. The people doing the training were largely those few academic toxicologists who were also serving on study sections and who recognized the need for mechanistic studies. Support for their training programs came either through individual R01 research grants or NIH training grants. Accordingly, their students engaged in mechanistic studies as the basis of their dissertation research. The result was the creation of a body of toxicologists who wished to communicate, and this led to the formation of the Mechanisms Section. However, these people represented a significant percentage of the society and their work has led to major advances in our science. In addition, as this group grew, it led to the formation of additional mechanistically oriented specialty sections within SOT directed toward specific problems. Hence there are sections on Inhalation, Molecular Biology, Carcinogenesis, etc., which pursue interests in mechanisms related to those areas, which reflect advances in toxicological research in these divergent areas of Toxicology.
The growth of Toxicology over the past few decades was not planned. It grew out of the research interests of toxicologists coupled with dramatic developments in the regulatory arena. Nevertheless, the role played by SOT, and to a major extent, the Mechanisms Section, has helped to shape the discipline and direct it to the goal of excellence in science, while enhancing the data bases which can support enlightened improvements in the regulation of human exposure to chemicals in the various media in which we live and work.
While Toxicology continues to grow as a discipline, we intend that the Mechanism Section will continue to lead with its emphasis on excellence in science, the uncovering of basic mechanisms of actions of chemicals, and the sponsorship of scholarly programs by toxicologists. With the solution to the problem of the human genome in the near future, we recognize that some of the most important scientific discoveries will be made by our students. The Mechanisms Section continues to be dedicated to the support and the recognition of excellence in research by students in Toxicology.
Councils' note: Since the submission of this Historian's Report in 1998, we have continued to update the Tables. As the numbers of graduate students receiving awards and of symposia and continuing education courses sponsored by the Mechanisms Specialty Section increases, it is clear that our section continued its tradition of contribution to the disciple and to the Society of Toxicology.