Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, is the recipient of the 2020 Metal Specialty Section Career Achievement Award by the Society of Toxicology (SOT). The Society of Toxicology is the largest professional organization of toxicologists in the world with members from over 60 countries.
“It is an honor and privilege to be recognized for my work by my friends and colleagues,” Guilarte says. “The Society of Toxicology has played an essential role in my career, giving me the opportunity to develop key relationships that have led to collaborations while providing a platform to showcase our research over the years.”
In 2018, Dr. Guilarte received the Hispanic Organization of Toxicologists (HOT) Distinguished Toxicologist Award, also from the Society of Toxicology.
Guilarte has made influential and impactful contributions to the field of metals neurotoxicology throughout his career and his work has been cited well over 11,000 times.
As a testament to his outstanding research, he has received uninterrupted funding for his lead work for 25 years from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). He has also had significant funding for elucidating the behavioral, neurochemical, and neuropathological effects of chronic exposure to manganese that produces cognitive and motor function deficits in exposed individuals.
Additionally, he has been invited to serve as a member of many National Institutes of Health (NIH) study sections and panels and was a member of the NIEHS Advisory Council.
Guilarte’s research focus in metals neurotoxicology started during his tenure at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in the late 1980s as a result of the high degree of environmental lead contamination in Baltimore’s neighborhoods that surrounded the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
“I saw a need to understand at the molecular and cellular level, the mechanism(s) by which lead was affecting children’s brain as a first step to discovering how we could mitigate those effects,” Guilarte says. He has gone on to numerous discoveries and the first potential treatment to reverse lead-induced learning deficits.
Additionally, Guilarte’s research has had a significant impact in novel discoveries related to manganese neurotoxicity. He was the principal investigator of a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional effort to understand the behavioral (cognitive and motor function), neuroimaging, and neuropathological changes associated with chronic manganese exposure in preclinical studies.
“We know that occupational or environmental exposure to heavy metals such as lead and manganese change the brain in ways that challenge everyday life activities," Guilarte says. "In public health, preventing exposure is the first line of defense but contamination of our environment with heavy metals such as lead is so widespread that in many situations, exposures are not preventable. Therefore, as scientists, we need to find solutions that can help mitigate or reverse detrimental effects after exposures have occurred."
Dr. Kim Tieu, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, who submitted his nomination to the committee, adds: “In addition to significant scientific impact, Dr. Guilarte has exerted major influence in the education, training and mentorship of young scientists in the field. He has trained numerous doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows and his trainees have been awarded with over 40 prizes at national and international student research competitions. I cannot think of a more deserving individual than Dr. Guilarte to receive this Career Achievement Award.”
The SOT also recognized Damaris Albores-Garcia, a postdoctoral associate in Guilarte’s lab, with a third place in the 2020 Metal Specialty Section Post-Doctoral Research Award for her poster, “Chronic early-life lead exposure disrupts behavior and μ-opioid receptor levels in the rat brain: implications to mental disorders.”
The 2020 Society of Toxicology annual meeting was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; awards were announced before the meeting was to be held.