After a yearlong national search, Mark Taubman, M.D., dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (URSMD), has named B. Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., as the new chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine. Lawrence, who has been a faculty member in the department for 11 years and has directed the Rochester Toxicology Program for the past 6 years, will officially begin her post on August 1, 2017.
“Environmental health research has led to policy changes and clinical care advances that have significantly improved people’s health over the past 50 years,” said Taubman, who is also CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). “Our medical center has a strong history of translating environmental research discoveries into improved care for patients, and I’m confident that Dr. Lawrence will help the department to continue its leadership in this critically important field of medicine.”
The Department of Environmental Medicine focuses on advancing discoveries about how the environment contributes to health and disease. Basic research led by department faculty focuses on how environmental factors influence a broad spectrum of diseases and contributes to innovative approaches to prevent or ameliorate exposure-based health consequences. The department also administers several nationally regarded, interdisciplinary programs, including the Environmental Health Sciences Center, Toxicology Program, Lung Biology and Disease Program, Life Sciences Learning Center, and two clinical programs in occupational medicine.
Our medical center has a strong history of translating environmental research discoveries into improved care for patients, and I’m confident that Dr. Lawrence will help the department to continue its leadership in this critically important field of medicine.
Lawrence is currently a professor of Environmental Medicine and Microbiology and Immunology at URMC and is a widely recognized expert on how environmental factors influence the development and function of the immune system. Her lab has implicated certain chemicals in dampening infants’ responses to vaccines, and has shown that maternal exposures to certain chemicals have enduring effects on the immune system, such as a poorer ability to fight infections, and a greater likelihood of developing autoimmune and allergic diseases.
“As testimony to the national and international reputation of our department faculty, we had many exceptional applicants from well-known academic institutions, and Dr. Lawrence stood out among them all,” said Jeffrey Lyness, M.D., senior associate dean for Academic Affairs at URSMD, who led the search. “She is a highly accomplished scientist and mentor who has a unique ability to engage and inspire colleagues to develop a collective vision for their work.”
Lawrence plans to bring this collective outlook to her new role. Though she has many ideas of new opportunities for the department, she looks forward to working with the faculty to develop a shared vision for the future. This model, she believes, will allow her to truly capitalize on the strengths of the department and its nationally acclaimed faculty.
“Part of the role of chair is to help your faculty get where they want to go,” said Lawrence. “I hope to leverage existing strengths of our department and center faculty, who have phenomenal reputations nationally, and integrate the department even more strongly with the URMC strategic vision.”
In addition to becoming the chair of Environmental Medicine, Lawrence will take over as director of the Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC), a center of excellence sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a part of the NIH. The center, which was established in 1975, is now in its 43rd year of continual funding, a testament to the EHSC’s scientific achievements and history of excellent leadership.
The EHSC supports researchers who are investigating how materials in the environment – such as lead, air and water pollutants, pesticides, and nanoparticles – affect human health. EHSC investigators also study the underlying mechanisms of toxic substances and how early life exposures may be transmitted across generations and contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s or cancer.
For the past year, Debbie Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., has served as acting chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and director of the EHSC. She stepped into that role when Thomas Gasiewicz, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine and chair of the department from 2001 to 2016, stepped down to focus on his health after suffering a stroke.
Lawrence earned an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry from Skidmore College and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular, and Cell Biology at Cornell University. She received specialized training in immunology and toxicology during a post-doctoral fellowship at Oregon State University. In addition to leading a well-funded research program, she is well known for her commitment to education, mentoring, and science education. She has received three mentoring awards, and serves regularly on national committees that focus on graduate education, career development, and mentoring.