This award recognizes an SOT member who has made substantial and seminal scientific contributions to the understanding of the science of toxicology and is actively involved in toxicological research.
Recognizing an illustrious career of scientific contributions to the field of neurotoxicology and his seminal work in the development of a rodent model of Gulf War Illness, James O’Callaghan, PhD, is presented with the 2024 SOT Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award.
After receiving his doctorate in neuropharmacology from Emory University, Dr. O’Callaghan has had a notable scientific research career working for the US federal government. For more than 15 years at the US Environmental Protection Agency, his work expanded the growing field of neurotoxicology by focusing on the need to identify potentially neurotoxic compounds that could lead to long-term illness and disease. This includes the identification of the glial fibrillary acidic protein as a biomarker for neurotoxicity and the development of a quantitative assay that could be used with brain tissue to assess neurotoxicity. Beginning in 1997, he assumed a leadership role as Head of the Molecular Neurotoxicology Laboratory at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Dr. O’Callaghan’s pioneering research has contributed greatly to the understanding of molecular neurotoxicology and the health effects of a wide range of compounds. In addition to his studies on disparate neurotoxicants, Dr. O’Callaghan’s collaborations have produced influential contributions to the field of neuroscience, including the use of focused microwave fixation in rodent models, contributing to Nobel Prize–winning research on understanding DARPP-32 signaling in dopaminergic neurons and bringing BAC-TRAP methodology for assessing cell type–specific gene expression into studies of neurotoxicicity.
Throughout his career in the US government, Dr. O’Callaghan was a prodigious publisher and presenter, with more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and as many invited presentations. His research efforts and collaborations have laid the groundwork for our understanding of the underlying cause of Gulf War Illness, producing more than 800 collective citations and 21 publications. It is through his research that the concept of Gulf War Illness as a neuroinflammatory disorder driven by persistent neuroimmune dysfunction, caused by exposures during the 1990–91 Gulf War, has become widely supported by experimental evidence. Furthermore, his animal model of Gulf War Illness is recognized by the Congressionally directed Medical Research Program as one of the few acceptable models of the illness and is described in the program’s publication, The Gulf War Illness Landscape.
Since joining SOT in 1986, Dr. O’Callaghan has been an active member of the Neurotoxicology Specialty Section. He also served on the SOT Continuing Education Committee from 2010 to 2012.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog about the awardee(s) is based on the nomination materials provided. This citation is being shared under the Award Committee Chair’s name as part of their official duties and should not be interpreted as their personal or professional opinions.