March 30, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more than 50 years, the Society of Toxicology has been recognized as the leading organization in the longstanding yet growing field of toxicology. The Society connects thousands of scientists across academia, private industries and government agencies through its professional and scholarly pursuits. This internationally recognized authority also presents competitive awards annually to a select group of promising professionals who exhibit superior leadership and productivity in the field.
Saurabh Chatterjee, assistant professor of environmental health sciences, is the 2015 recipient of the Society's Immunotoxicology Specialty Section Outstanding Young Investigator Award. One of the most prestigious awards that a researcher can receive during the early part of a career in immunotoxicology (i.e., within 10 years of completing a doctoral degree), Chatterjee’s recognition is well deserved.
He began his scientific career in India after completing a masters’ degree in the field of immunology—what he considers to be his lifelong passion. Chatterjee’s first position as an immunologist was with an environmental health and medicine research institute, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center—an institute under the aegis of the Department of Atomic Energy. The Center is where he first investigated the effects of the environment on the immune system, “an important topic for a developing country like India,” he says. Beginning with this initial research, Chatterjee began his ultimate career path of marrying immunology and toxicology.
In fact, Chatterjee’s subsequent work during his doctoral program at the University of Mumbai and as a postdoctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) opened up an entirely new area of research in the field of toxicology by examining the relationship between heat stress, free radicals, oxidative stress and immunology. After completing his fellowship, Chatterjee became part of an elite group of young researchers to receive an $800,000 NIH Pathway to Independence Award, which he used to build his own lab at the Arnold School of Public Health where he accepted an assistant professor position in 2012.
Chatterjee’s Environmental Health & Disease Laboratory now serves as the backdrop for his groundbreaking research and provides the context for mentoring doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows who have already received awards of their own. For almost three years now, Chatterjee has worked tirelessly to build on this growing body of research with the help of his motivated team. As evidence of his dedication, his lab members were recipients of several additional awards at the Society of Toxicology’s annual meeting that was held in March.
Postdoctoral Fellow Ratanesh Seth won the Dr. Dharm Singh Postdoctoral Fellow Best Abstract Award from the Association of Scientists of Indian Origin Special Interest Group. Doctoral Candidate Suvarthi Das won travel awards from both the Society of Toxicology as a whole and the Society’s Toxicologic and Exploratory Pathology Specialty Section. She also won the prestigious Carl C. Smith Graduate Student Award finalist honorable mention from the Mechanisms Specialty Section for meritorious research. Graduate student, Sahar Pourhoseini won the Charles River Travel Award from Toxicologic and Exploratory Pathology Specialty Section. Finally, Seth, Das and Chatterjee earned an honorable mention for a paper they published in the Society’s official journal, Toxicological Sciences.
“I try to do whatever I can to help each of them prepare for careers in academia or industry where they will advance the field of immunotoxicology,” he says. Further, his passion for immunotoxicology has resulted in 20 peer-reviewed publications from 2012 to date.
After all, Chatterjee has learned from extraordinary mentors himself. Tom Chandler, Dean of the Arnold School and professor of environmental health sciences, shared lab space with Chatterjee when he joined the school while his own lab was being built. “Even with his administrative position, he still found time to work with students and do research,” says Chatterjee. “I was so impressed by his interactions with students. He was a great inspiration for me and continues to be a strong mentor.” Likewise, Dwayne Porter, a professor and graduate director within the department, helped shape Chatterjee’s views of his newly acquired academic appointment. “He helped me find my way as a young faculty member, and we have a very close relationship,” Chatterjee says.
He also found mentors in Professor and Chair James Carson (Department of Exercise Science), the USC School of Medicine’s Mitzi Nagarkatti, chair of pathology, microbiology and immunology, and Narendra Prasad Singh, a research professor in the same department who nominated Chatterjee for the award. Undoubtedly, these mentors have furthered Chatterjee’s success by inspiring him to maintain high standards in his quest for research excellence.
Indeed, Chatterjee has published numerous, highly cited papers and continues to create new avenues in the field of immunotoxicology. Now that he has received the Outstanding Young Investigator Award, he looks forward to moving on to the senior investigator category. Chatterjee considers it a challenge and a privilege to continue his contributions to the centuries old and yet constantly evolving field of research that has given him so much.