May 28, 2022


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Gerald Wogan, professor emeritus of biological engineering, chemistry, and toxicology, dies at 91 | MIT News

Gerald N. Wogan, the Underwood Prescott Professor of Organic Engineering, Chemistry, and Toxicology emeritus at MIT, passed away just after a extended health issues on July 16 at the age of 91. 

“Jerry” Wogan was a pioneering scientist who isolated, characterised, and founded the mechanisms of action of lots of environmental toxic compounds of good relevance to world wide general public overall health. His leadership on aflatoxin analysis, a toxin that impacts the lives of billions of people today, is a paradigm for environmental toxicology. His do the job ranged from basic mechanistic scientific tests at the mobile amount to the advancement of animal products of ailment, the review of sickness designs in populations, and, in the long run, the progress of brokers that induce biochemical pathways that safeguard individuals from toxin-induced disease.

Through his 60-calendar year vocation, Wogan trained in excess of 75 graduate learners and postdocs, who them selves went on to come to be leaders in the environmental wellness field. Former college student John D. Groopman PhD ’79, who led environmental well being sciences at Johns Hopkins University for 20 decades, recollects: “Although Jerry was a good scientific leader highly regarded by his peers, it was his humanity and determination to the translation of primary science to the public’s great that is his lasting legacy to his students and their students in transform.”

John Essigmann PhD ’76, the previous director of the MIT Middle for Environmental Overall health Sciences and associate head of chemistry, suggests, “Jerry was often open up to new ideas and had a gift for using an strategy and projecting its effects on the world stage. He inspired us to consider big and see the broader influence of our do the job.”  

Wogan was born in 1930 in the railroad town of Altoona, Pennsylvania. His father was a railroad worker, and Wogan resolved to show up at Juniata Higher education in 1947 in part due to the fact his father had a corporation move that permitted him to pay a visit to his son at faculty. Wogan worked his way by way of college or university as a truck driver and was a member of the Teamsters’ Union. In 1951, Wogan moved on to graduate function at the College of Illinois at Urbana, in which he studied physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology with eminent physiologist Robert E. Anderson, and fulfilled his foreseeable future spouse, Holly, a exclusive instruction instructor who grew to become a surrogate parent to generations of Wogan lab customers. The two married in 1957, the 12 months Wogan obtained his PhD.

Immediately after his doctoral perform and a temporary teaching position at Rutgers University, Wogan sat by possibility on an airplane next to Institute Professor emeritus Nevin Scrimshaw, recruiting school for what has become the MIT Division of Organic Engineering (Training course 20). Wogan so impressed Scrimshaw through that flight that he was recruited to the MIT college and sooner or later took about as department head from 1979 to 1987.  

In early function, Wogan and his longtime collaborator, chemist George Büchi, isolated a fungal toxin referred to as aflatoxin B1 from peanuts infested with a fungus, Aspergillus flavus. In a chemistry and community well being milestone, they determined the framework of the toxin and recognized procedures for measuring it in foodstuff and other environmental samples. The translation of this basic investigation to international plan and regulation of a potent carcinogen was a exclusive achievement that has impacted how the U.S. Food stuff and Drug Administration, Environmental Defense Agency, and Worldwide Agency for Analysis on Cancer (IARC) assess likely carcinogens. Based mostly on this exploration, Wogan participated in Volume 1 of the IARC evaluation of possible human carcinogens in 1972. This IARC application has become the gold common for most cancers risk assessment.

Wogan then turned to Southeast Asia, exactly where he suspected that aflatoxin may possibly be accountable for an epidemic of liver cancer. With Thai collaborators, Wogan and his college student Ronald Shank ’59, PhD ’65 proven an unequivocal association in between aflatoxin amounts in the food items offer and the incidence of liver cancer in Thailand. Afterwards replicated in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Asia, this part of his function represents a milestone in epidemiology. 

Back again at MIT, Büchi created derivatives of aflatoxin, and Wogan established animal products, some of which are however employed right now as pivotal tests for the most cancers-leading to potential of environmental agents. Wogan’s work on aflatoxin quickly expanded to other fungal and bacterial poisons, fossil fuel combustion items, poisonous foodborne amines, and the important roles of an infection inflammation as a lead to and accelerant of cancer.

Relating to his work on persistent bacterial bacterial infections, collaborator Jim Fox opinions: “Jerry’s collaborative scientific tests with MIT colleagues Peter Dedon, John Essigmann, Steven Tannenbaum ’58, PhD ’62, and myself, probing the crucial purpose of reactive oxygen species in the pathophysiology of long-term swelling and carcinogenesis are one of a kind, and I think, extremely essential.”

Collaborator Tannenbaum recollects, “Jerry Wogan invented the paradigm for getting an environmental carcinogen, its metabolism into a DNA damaging agent, creating biomarkers for molecular epidemiology, and monoclonal antibodies for environmental surveillance. His crew of graduate students led the way with his advice and wound up with five school positions at prime universities, exactly where they ongoing to generate the subject of most cancers epidemiology.” Tannenbaum, who took the direct in creating the Wogan Lectureship at MIT and went on to make pathfinding contributions on the roles of nitric oxide in human wellbeing and disorder, also wrote that Wogan aided him as an early-vocation scientist go into toxicology.

The impact of Wogan’s perform on aflatoxin was felt strongly throughout the globe, where by up to 5 billion people are potentially exposed to the toxin each and every day. Mathuros Ruchirawat PhD ’75, vice president for exploration at the Chulabhorn Study Institute in Bangkok, displays on the impression Wogan’s do the job had on worldwide community overall health, investigate, and teaching in Southeast Asia: “His analysis has immense and prolonged-long lasting impacts on general public well being in Thailand the greater community consciousness of aflatoxins as a significant threat component for liver cancer has contributed to the avoidance of this disorder in the state.”

William Suk, who directs the national Superfund Study Software and performs a pivotal part in U.S.-Thailand relations, recalls that Jerry’s superb characteristics as a scientist have been complemented by his means to mentor others: “I try to remember most his means to offer sage guidance to all.”

3 of Wogan’s previous graduate students and two other MIT professors still educate at Bangkok every summer in a graduate diploma system Wogan influenced to deal with capacity making in the building globe. Colleague Dedon claims: “Jerry’s eyesight of science for the general public great had legitimate global effect that was substantially broader than the specifics of his analysis.”

Ram Sasisekharan, a co-founder of the Bangkok program, says: “Jerry was a correct inspiration — focused on complications that need alternatives, and was a bold choose on sophisticated world wide challenges.”

A lot of of Wogan’s colleagues went off to apply their toxicology capabilities in the pharmaceutical arena. 

Gerald McMahon, former president of Sugen and developer of quite a few accepted anticancer therapies, says: “Jerry’s inspiration and enthusiasm to get a possibility and pursue innovation was inspiring and served me perfectly in my biotech career.”

One more business-based colleague, Alexander Wooden, former government director in the oncology office of Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Investigate and at present a senior lecturer in organic engineering at MIT, remembers Jerry as becoming “continually engaged in a wide assortment of topics in the causation, prevention, and cure of most cancers, and cheerfully prepared to supply seem information and viewpoint.”

Wogan was identified by lots of honors. He was a member of the U.S. Nationwide Academy of Sciences (1977) and the National Academy of Medication (1994). He received the Charles S. Mott Prize of the Normal Motors Cancer Investigation Foundation (2005), the Medal of Honor of the Global Agency for Research on Most cancers (2010), The Princess Chulabhorn Gold Medal (2012), the Princess Takamatsu Most cancers Investigate Fund award (2001), the Society of Toxicology life time scholar award (2004), the Chemical Industries Institute of Toxicology Founders’ award (1999), as effectively as distinguished alumnus awards from his alma maters, Juniata Faculty (2010) and the University of Illinois (1995).

Wogan’s wife of more than 50 a long time, Holly, handed away in 2013. He is survived by his daughter Christine and her partner John his son Eugene and his wife Vicky three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

Former students Essigmann, Groopman, and Robert Croy PhD ’79 just lately reminisced about the Wogan laboratory’s a lot of adventures, which reflected Wogan’s perception that experts must get out of the laboratory and practical experience the exterior environment. On just one vacation, the youthful users of the Wogan-Büchi team crossed the 45-kilometer Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountains on skis, inspite of 5 ft of snow, brutal terrain, and subfreezing temperatures. As was regular of his design and style, Wogan had chilled champagne ready at the complete of this extended journey. He taught his team that tough function and a activity effectively accomplished are sweeter if a person celebrates it in type. They also learned that their education at MIT was a journey, and that this kind of journeys are greatest taken with buddies. As a testimonial to this approach of investigation group management, it is putting that so several of the previous Wogan investigate groups are nonetheless close buddies currently, connected by the frequent bond of their time in his laboratory.  

Wogan was a repeated participant in the Aspen Most cancers Meeting, which the Wogan loved ones has selected as a charity for folks who would like to donate in his name.