I had the privilege and honor of being a recipient of a 2022 SOT Graduate Intern Fellowship in Toxicology (GIFT) award administered by the SOT Education and Career Development Committee. This award, which is supported by the James Bond-Michele Medinsky Graduate Student Development Temporary Fund, granted me the opportunity to participate in an internship with the In Vitro Toxicology Unit in the Istituto Superiore di Sanitá Department of Food Safety, Nutrition and Veterinary Public Health in Rome, Italy.
My Personal Objectives for the Fellowship
The GIFT award enabled me to acquire experiences not normally available as a PhD student with the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in Awka, Nigeria. I was aware of the gaps, limited equipment, and lack of experts in in vitro toxicology at my institution that limited my research activities. My training as a future toxicologist would have been incomplete without the mentorship of my supervisor, Prof. Onyenmechi Johnson Afonne, who encouraged me to take up a GIFT-supported fellowship in in vitro toxicology. This motivated me to thrive academically and seek an alternative platform to contribute to the diversity of my professional career. The internship in in vitro toxicology provided me with relevant skills and intellectual exposure in toxicology—a good platform to harness the potentials and impact on the advancement of toxicology in Nigeria.
My Internship Experience
I had a great experience during my stay with my host, Dr. Stefano Lorenzetti. Dr. Lorenzetti’s research laboratory is devoted to in vitro toxicology research on biomarkers of endocrine disruption, and lab activities include investigation on environmental contaminants such as polyfluoroalkyl substances, organophosphates, and novel brominated flame retardants. Such activities helped me to understand the basis of environmental toxicants at the cellular and molecular levels.
As part of the daily laboratory activities, I learned so many in vitro toxicological techniques like development and application of cell lines, organic specific models, stem cells models in in vitro toxicology, in vitro methods for assessing cytotoxicity, cell vitality, cell propagations and apoptosis, genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, use and validation of 3R-alternative methods, good cell culture practice, and computer methods of quantitative in vitro-in vivo extrapolation. I had the opportunity of working on different cell lines. I had an immersive experience in the departmental functioning and was part of the daily morning meetings, observing all procedures and assisting in some. Milena Mikhail, a fellowship student, and Anton Vremere, a PhD student, gave me the needed, detailed explanations on the procedures. I also benefitted from collaboration with the Metabolic Unit where Gabrile Lori took me through various steps in molecular studies, including operations of quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction.
My host, Dr. Lorenzetti, is a kind, humble, enthusiastic, and supportive mentor. He was ever ready to teach all the students in his laboratory. He took care of me and provided all that I needed to feel at home. It was amazing to me that on my birthday, anticipating that no one knew it was my birthday, he had prepared a surprise birthday bash in my honor because he had noted the date from my CV. Moreover, I had a great experience with other colleagues directly under his supervision.
During my stay, I got to embrace the originality of Italian culture, the nativity of the adoration of the ancient and modern Rome, and the beauty of the famous Italian nation and to learn a lot, especially the influence of the political and religious structure of Vatican City.
Goal Statement for Implementation of What I Learned from My GIFT Experience
The activities at the Istituto have broadened my understanding and kept me abreast with the emerging technologies in toxicology and molecular biology in general. To support others who may benefit from this opportunity, I have established a platform within my institution for sharing the knowledge that I acquired. It also will act as a mentoring platform for aiding my fellow graduate students in finding the right career in in vitro toxicology.
I am grateful to SOT for creating GIFT. The program has widened my understanding of toxicology at the cellular and molecular levels. My warm regards and many thanks go to Dr. Stefano Lorenzetti for helping me have this wonderful experience and awesome traineeship under his mentorship. I hope that his investment in me during a long intellectual project will someday be reaped to the benefit of the Society. Prof. Onyenmechi Johnson Afonne, my home supervisor, is a great mentor as well. He insisted and ensured that I have international exposure for optimization of novel ideas in toxicology and molecular biology. Dr. Chiara Frazzoli is my backbone and the brain behind my testimony. She is a mentor and fought gallantly to ensure that I secured a place at the Istituto Superiore di Sanitá for this program. Prof. Orish Ebere Orisakwe is a game changer; he diversified my career in toxicology. Milena Mikhail and Anton Vremere ensured that there were no dull moments during my stay in Rome. Indeed, it was an awesome experience, and I cherished working with Milena, Anton, Gabrile, Chiara, and Stefano. They all empowered me and pushed me to exceed my expectations, and I am excited about my next chapter in my professional career and exploration of my future career opportunities.