Because of her impact on the science of toxicology and the more than 30 years she has spent in dedication to advancing the field, Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker has received the 2019 SOT Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award.
After earning her PhD from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1984, Dr. Walker performed her postgraduate training as a staff fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Currently, Dr. Walker holds several positions at Baylor College of Medicine, including director of the Center for Precision Environmental Health and Albert and Margaret Alkek Presidential Endowed Chair in Environmental Health. She also is a professor in the Baylor College of Medicine Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Department of Medicine; and Department of Molecular and Human Genetics.
Dr. Walker is a leader in the environmental health sciences, particularly in the area of genetic/epigenetic and environment interactions. Her research takes place where toxicology, genetics/epigenetics, and endocrinology converge. Specifically, Dr. Walker has led the field in identifying pathways by which environmental exposures perturb the epigenome to induce developmental reprogramming and in identifying the molecular mechanisms by which this reprogramming can increase risk for disease later in life, including hormone-dependent cancers.
Dr. Walker also is distinguished by her exemplary service to SOT, of which she has been a member since 1990. Shortly after becoming a member, Dr. Walker was elected to several leadership positions within the Molecular Biology Specialty Section (later renamed the Molecular and Systems Biology Specialty Section), including President. She has served on several SOT committees and the SOT Council, and she was the President of the Society from 2009–2010. She also previously served on the Toxicological Sciences editorial board. Further, she actively participates in the SOT Annual Meetings as a frequent speaker and session organizer.
Dr. Walker’s reputation precedes her in both the toxicology community and the general community. Notably, she was the recipient of the 2016 SOT Leading Edge in Basic Science Award, the 2018 Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Toxicology, and the 2019 Roy O. Greep Award from the Endocrine Society. She also was named one of the 50 Most Influential Houston Women by Houston Woman Magazine. She has published more than 180 papers, is an AAAS Fellow and member of the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, and in 2016 was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.
EDITOR'S SIDEBAR: Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award Lecture at the SOT 58th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo
Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker will give the Distinguished Toxicology Scholar Award Lecture on Monday, March 11, 2019, from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm in Ballroom III of the Baltimore Convention Center during the SOT 58th Annual Meeting and ToxExpo. The topic of Dr. Walker’s lecture is “Epigenome-Environment Interactions.” The lecture abstract is as follows:
Early in life, the epigenome is quite plastic and modifiable by the environment. Maternal-fetal interactions in utero, nutritional status, and exposure to environmental chemicals are all known to affect the developing epigenome. These epigenome-environment interactions can provide an adaptive advantage but also can disrupt the epigenome to alter physiology and increase susceptibility to cancer and other diseases in adulthood. Mechanistically, environmental exposures can disrupt the process of epigenomic programming that normally occurs during development by altering the activity of the “readers, writers, and erasers” that add, remove, and act as effectors of epigenetic marks. Recently, we performed longitudinal epigenomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic profiling across the life course using exposure to an endocrine-disrupting chemical as a tool to understand how an early-life exposure could reprogram the liver epigenome and drive metabolic dysfunction in adulthood. We found that this early-life exposure targeted the plasticity of the developing epigenome to accelerate epigenomic aging. Remarkably, although epigenetic reprogramming of chromatin states and target genes persisted into adulthood, the impact of reprogramming was metabolically silent until a later-life challenge with a Western-style diet high in fat, fructose, and cholesterol. In response to this dietary challenge, metabolic reprogramming manifested as an increase in serum cholesterol and dyslipidemia, and in the liver, metabolic dysfunction driven by reprogramming of gene expression, signaling, and production of metabolites in pathways linked to cholesterol, lipid, and one-carbon metabolism. These findings reveal that age-related plasticity of the developing epigenome creates a vulnerability to reprogramming by environmental exposures, which can accelerate epigenomic aging and drive a conditional metabolic dysfunction dependent on later-life diet.