Dana C. Dolinoy Receives the 2021 SOT Leading Edge in Basic Science Award

By Brian Cummings posted 02-18-2021 16:42


Dana C. Dolinoy, PhD

Dana C. Dolinoy, PhD, has received the 2021 SOT Leading Edge in Basic Science Award for her work in environmental epigenetics and the resulting effect of her research on toxicology and public health.

Dr. Dolinoy received her PhD in genetics and genomics and integrated toxicology and environmental health from Duke University in 2007 and conducted her postdoctoral fellowship in radiation oncology at the Duke University Medical School. She is currently the NSF International Chair of Environmental Health Sciences and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, as well as Faculty Director of the Epigenomics Core at Michigan Medicine. Through these roles, Dr. Dolinoy provides a rigorous environment for training future scientists, instilling in them the need for critical experimentation and evaluation and interpretation of data.

Dr. Dolinoy has been involved in evaluating the impact of environmental exposures on the pathogenesis of diseases for over 15 years. An internationally recognized leader in the field of environmental epigenetics, Dr. Dolinoy leads innovative research evaluating how the health effects of environmental exposures can be mediated through changes in the epigenome. Within the past five years, Dr. Dolinoy has conducted numerous studies, both in her laboratory and in collaboration with others, to demonstrate how exposure to a variety of environmental chemicals—including bisphenols, phthalates, and metals—can cause specific alterations in the epigenome.

Dr. Dolinoy’s research also is pushing the boundaries of understanding the epigenome as well as tools to evaluate this critical system in gene regulation. Most recently, she was able to demonstrate the tissue-specific expression of Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNA) in most mouse somatic tissue in the first study to do so. These small RNAs were previously assumed to be expressed exclusively in germ line tissues, where they are known to be involved in transposon silencing by DNA methylation. Thus, this study not only suggests a possible role of the Piwi proteins/piRNA in regulating the epigenome in the soma, but also offers the promise of a tool for epigenome editing to improve human health.

Between 2015 and 2019, Dr. Dolinoy’s publications have received a total of 4,386 citations, resulting in a five-year h-index of 35, easily placing her in the top 2% of scientists in her field. Recognition of her work also is evident from numerous national and international invitations to present her research, as well as service as an Associate Editor of Toxicological Sciences and Environmental Health Perspectives and on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry; Epigenetics; and Environmental Epigenetics.

Dr. Dolinoy has been an active SOT member since 2005. She is the 2020–2021 Past President of the Molecular and Systems Biology Specialty Section and recently concluded her term on the Board of Publications. She served as Chair of the 2015 Gordon Research Conference in Cellular & Molecular Mechanisms of Toxicity and Co-Chair of the 2016 SOT Contemporary Concepts in Toxicology meeting Toxicoepigenetics: The Interface of Epigenetics and Risk Assessment. She also was the recipient of the Women in Toxicology Special Interest Group Outstanding Young Investigator Award in 2017 and the SOT Achievement Award in 2018.

EDITOR’S SIDEBAR: 2021 SOT Leading Edge in Basic Science Award Lecture at the 60th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo

Dr. Dolinoy will deliver the 2021 Leading Edge in Basic Science Award Lecture on Tuesday, March 16, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am (US EDT, UTC -4). The Topic of Dr. Dolinoy’s lecture is “Toxicoepigenetics and the Use of piRNA for Precision Environmental Health Research.” The lecture abstract is as follows:

Toxicant exposures early in life adversely affect health outcomes in both animal models and humans, in part because of epigenetic mechanisms. Accumulating studies also indicate that exposures’ effect on the epigenome can be tissue and even cell specific. Yet toxicoepigenetic animal studies are often conducted with single tissues in bulk and/or limited epigenomic targets (e.g., DNA methylation). Additionally, epigenetic epidemiology analysis of toxicants is almost always restricted to biologically available, “surrogate” (e.g., blood) samples. Using a combination of toxicological and epidemiological approaches, the first of two overarching goals of this lecture is to advance the understanding of the effects of representative perinatal exposures on the epigenome and longitudinal health risks. Second, precision modification of the epigenome holds great promise for our ability to modify environmentally induced changes in gene expression, yet is currently out of reach using common techniques (drugs, transgenics, etc.). Until recently, it was widely believed that Piwi Like RNA-Mediated Gene Silencing (PIWIL) gene expression was confined to the germ line of animals and that neither PIWILs nor piRNAs were present or active in somatic tissues. Our research overturns this accepted knowledge by finding widespread PIWIL expression in multiple somatic tissues in mice and humans. Thus, we are using this class of RNA to develop technology to target specific genes and loci for stable, mitotically heritable silencing at predetermined genomic locations. The research expands the repertoire of epigenome editing tools resulting in therapeutics to treat a broad array of environmental and epigenetic diseases, including imprinted gene disorders and cancer.