Meryl Karol, PhD, ATS, is the recipient of the Society of Toxicology (SOT) 2017 Founders Award. In a career spanning almost four decades, Dr. Karol has been actively engaged in research that has advanced the role of toxicology in safety decision-making. She has published extensively on chemically induced allergy and asthma and individual susceptibility to allergic diseases (holding patents related to this research) and is published widely on improving indoor air quality to sustain public health.
Dr. Karol gained international renown for her work in environmental epidemiology and immunotoxicology, particularly on the mechanisms of chemical toxicity. In 1984, Dr. Karol was sent by the US State Department to Bhopal, India, to investigate the thousands of deaths associated with methyl isocyanate and similar chemicals used in the production of polyurethane foams, paints, lacquer, and electrical insulation. In conjunction with laboratories in India, she worked to assess the immunologic effects of the chemicals by using serum samples. Her worked prepared her to consult with multinational companies on ways to safely handle the chemicals to protect employees and the public health. She later developed a method to detect isocyanates and a test procedure to detect the development of adverse immune hypersensitivity response to isocyanates. Her research on isocyanates was instrumental in the establishment of safe occupational exposure levels that are cited by many international regulators.
Another area of Dr. Karol’s expertise is allergic sensitization from skin and pulmonary exposure to formaldehyde. Her research in this area resulted in the development of an animal model of formaldehyde sensitization. A recognized expert in this field, she provided testimony before the US Congress on formaldehyde levels in US Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.
Dr. Karol has published more than 177 publications in peer-reviewed journals and 22 book chapters. She has mentored 28 graduate students who have completed master’s degrees or theses, in addition to six doctoral students. Highly respected in her field, Dr. Karol has served on several important national scientific advisory committees and panels and worked with many government agencies, including the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment, National Research Council Committee on Toxicology, US Environmental Protection Agency, and US Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
She received her PhD in immunochemistry from Columbia University and completed her postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 1974, she joined the faculty of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health as a research associate. She became a tenured professor in 1985 and served in other capacities until her retirement in 2006, when she was associate dean for academic affairs and research. She is currently a professor emerita for the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Karol has been an SOT member since 1981. In addition to serving on all of the major SOT Committees, she holds the distinction of being the first woman to be elected president of the Society (1994‒1995). Additionally, she was the first woman to serve as secretary-general for the International Union of Toxicology and served with distinction on the board of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences (ATS).